Divorce can be a difficult time for all those involved. This includes those related to the divorcing couple – family, friends and, especially, children. If there are children involved, the process can be even more turbulent. It is important to consider legal counsel when it comes to a divorce involving children. Chicago family law firm ABM Family Law, who have a number of child support attorneys, say that each year, up to 1.5 million children have parents who go through a divorce in the United States.
Stay Together for the Kids?
There is a long-running question among married couples who feel they are not happy – “should we stay together for the kids?” If spouses are considering this, then it is clear that there are problems with the marriage. The anger and resentment or sadness directed towards the other person in the marriage can be absorbed by children, and even accidentally taken out on them. Neglect, whether on purpose or subconsciously, may occur. An emotionally distracted or checked-out parent is not the best caregiver. If any abuse has occurred, then it is clearly for the best to not stay together. However, Judith Wallerstein, author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, believes that children are better off if the parents remain together, even if they are no longer in love with each other. She prioritizes the well-being of the children above the mental health of the parents; something that all parents do to some degree.
How Children Can React to Divorce
On many occasions, children are drawn into the legal proceedings of the divorce. Even if the separation is amicable, the emotional turmoil and upheaval in their lives can affect kids in many ways:
Anger – Children aren’t as attuned to their emotions as most adults. A huge life upheaval such as divorce, with one parent moving out, can leave children emotionally confused. This often manifests as anger and irritability. For elementary school-aged children, it is most common. Anger can be directed at either both or one parent, their siblings or friends, or even inanimate objects. The loss of control that they feel from a divorce means that many children look for someone to blame, hence the feelings of anger.
Social withdrawal – Even the most social of children can be affected by a divorce. The emotions stirred up when their parents are going through a divorce may result in children shutting off and trying to distance themselves from the world. They could struggle to relate to their friends whose parents might be happily married, or even their siblings, who they may perceive are taking the separation of the family unit better.
Guilt, anxiety, and depression – Studies have shown that children that have had their parents go through divorce are more likely to suffer from depression. This can stem from feelings of guilt, that they are the reason their parents are breaking up. Children once again look for a concrete reason for what is happening and why they are feeling how they are, and often they blame themselves.
Poor academic performance – Given the emotional turmoil experienced by children in a divorce, it is unsurprising that they may be distracted from their studies. Having issues at home can lead to a lack of focus, and academic journals suggest that there is a higher dropout rate among children whose parents have divorced.
Research from the University of Virginia in 2002 suggests that children of divorce are more likely to only suffer short term effects from their parent’s divorce. In the vast majority of cases, the reactions and effects diminish by the end of the second year.