The divorce rate in America has remained relatively consistent over the past 20 years, reported at between 40 and 50 percent. That means that almost one in two marriages end in divorce. Researcher Neil Jacobson after a review of the literature determined that the best predictors of divorce were interpersonal difficulties including antagonism, lack of respect, hostility and inability to communicate with each other. In addition to communication problems, financial issues and infidelity are frequently the root cause of divorce.
A child’s reaction to divorce will at least in part, depend on their family’s situation to begin with. Some children may feel complete relief, at least initially and others will feel angry, sad and anxious. Some of this will depend on the parent’s relationship with one another, the family’s support system and the child’s stage of development. Divorce is a most difficult transition for a child, and the child is experiencing this transition at the same time as his or her main support system, the parents. The reason for stress and anxiety during this period is obvious. The family has changed and everything in the day to day life has changed, from schedules and routines to finances and contact with extended family. Children fear losing contact with family and friend as well as familiar possessions and even pets (Hart, 1985).
Judith Wallerstein began researching the effects of divorce on children in the 1970’s. She interviewed 131 children of divorce and continued to follow those children throughout their life. Wallerstein found that divorce can have lasting, long term effects on children. She found that while parents, in general began to heal form the pain of divorce during the third year, the effects on children can last decades (Wallerstein, 2000).
A major complaint from children in the Wallerstein study is the forced interaction and planned time they were required to spend with the non custodial parent. Though they wanted to see the other parent, excessive planning or changes in scheduling disrupts their normal life. Some children blame themselves or feel that they had something to do with the reason for divorce. After the separation and divorce, they may feel unsafe and have abandonment fears. Arguments and tension between parents can make children feel guilty, angry, and lonely. This is a particularly important issue for parents to be aware as these issues are risk factors that can make a child more vulnerable to experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex.
Parents can help a child adjust to divorce by talking, spending time, reassuring and maintaining as good a relationship a possible with the other parent. Studies have shown that divorce is a significant source of stress for children, and it can result in problems. On the other hand, some children will adjust and move forward without significant long tem problems. Studies show that children who cope best with divorce are those who, after divorce, continue to have a stable, loving relationship with both parents and regular, dependable visits from the non custodial parent. Requiring mandatory counseling is the best prevention efforts. Many state, including Oklahoma, California and Michigan are now requiring education and counseling as a component of the no-fault divorce. Given the potential long term effects on children, it makes sense to require this of any couple filing for divorce.