With the rapid increase in divorce rates during the last 30 years, clinicians and researchers have begun to recognize the significance of this stressful event for the development and adjustment of children. Substantial numbers of children experience parental divorce before they reach age 18; it is estimated that about one-half of marriages end in divorce, affecting approximately 1 million children each year (National Center for Health Statistics, 1995). Racial/ethnic differences have been noted in the demographics of divorce; many more African American children experience parental separation or divorce than do European American children (76% vs. 36%) (McLanahan & Bumpass, 1988). A large body of research has clearly documented that many children are negatively affected by their parents' divorce, at least in the short term (e.g., Amato & Keith, 1991a; Chase-Lansdale, Cherlin, & Kierman, 1995; Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999). In a recent review, Hetherington, Bridges, and Insabella (1998) estimate that 20–25% of children in divorced and/or remarried families evidence significant adjustment problems; this is compared to the 10% of children from intact homes who have difficulties. Moreover, African American males appear to be most vulnerable to the adverse affects of parental separation (Jenkins & Guidubaldi, 1997).
Negative effects of divorce are also seen over the long term. Many children continue to experience their parents' divorce as a significant negative influence in their lives through adolescence and well into adulthood (Amato & Keith, 1991b; Chase-Lansdale et al., 1995; Wallerstein & Lewis, 1998). It is important to note, however, that not all children experience lasting negative effects as a result of divorce (Grych & Fincham, 1992; Hetherington et al., 1998). Many cope amazingly well with the stresses that occur in the aftermath of parental separation and function extremely competently in all aspects of their lives (Emery & Forehand, 1994). Research has thus shifted from examining the general negative effects of divorce to defining the factors that mediate children's adjustment to the stresses of divorce and determine which children will adapt and which will continue to evidence problems.
Divorce is most appropriately viewed as a “transitional event,” in that it is not the divorce per se that affects the child and family, but the often prolonged process of change and adaptation that precedes and follows the divorce (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999). It has been