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Divorce: Children Caught in the Crossfire

The United States of America, according to recent reports, has the world’s highest divorce rate, two times as high as the next highest country (Sweden) and even as much as fifty times higher than some countries. Since the 1970s, it has been widely accepted in this country that “half of all marriages end in divorce”. Once upon a time, divorce was frowned upon, a lamentable event worth taking great pains to avoid. Not any more. Today, society seems to welcome it, even encourage it. It has become the first option for the slightest marital offense, including the snoring of one’s spouse. Advertisements for divorce lawyers are plastered everywhere, begging to offer their services in breaking up families. Sadly, fewer and fewer people are considering the welfare of the children involved.

In 1995, it was estimated that nearly 20 million children were living with only one parent after a divorce. Were one to research the effects of divorce on these children, he or she will be overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting reports available out there. For example, the British Inside Divorce states that 80% of children of divorced parents consider themselves to be “quite happy” or “very happy”. Yet the same report admits to finding that the greatest impact of divorce on these same children is a profound sense of helplessness and a pressure to choose between their parents. Such conflicting, confusing reports abound in an attempt to both report facts while at the same time absolve parents of any possible feeling of guilt or responsibility.

However, the realities of such high divorce rates and their effects on children remain out in the open for those truly interested to see. While some divorce court filings proceed amicably, many others do not and resulting custody hearings degenerate to terrible accusations of child manipulation, physical, emotional, even sexual abuse, sabotage and brain-washing. According to the findings of Dr. William C. Holmes published in the March 13th, 2007 Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, “Children being raised by one parent are at a greater risk for many things as they grow up, including health risks such as poorly controlled diabetes and asthma. We now must add childhood sexual abuse to part of this risk picture….” A US study reported in the March 15th, 2007 HealthDay News that, “Adult men who grew up in single-parent households are twice as likely as other men to have been sexually abused during childhood….” The researchers said that this is “…because parental absences in single-parent homes provide more opportunity for sexual predators to abuse children.”

Why are these children so vulnerable? It is because they do not have the natural support system necessary for healthy, emotional growth and development. According to a University of New Hampshire study, even infants suffer adverse effects steaming from parental divorce. “Infants may not understand conflict, but may react to changes in parent’s energy level and mood. Infants may loose their appetite or have an upset stomach and spit up more. Children from three to five years of age frequently believe they have caused their parent’s divorce. They may…begin wetting the bed. They may deny that anything has changed, or they may become uncooperative, depressed, or angry.” The same study found that for elementary school-aged children, parental divorce is most difficult. These children often feel rejected by the parent who has left the marriage. They experience embarrassment, resentment, divided loyalty, intense anger and grief. Adolescents experience fear, loneliness, anger, depression, guilt and a sense of pre-mature adulthood leading to bad-decision making.

Such are the dire facts of what has become a societal norm, divorce. That does not mean to say that under no circumstance is divorce a likely alternative to an abusive marriage. However, parents ought not to delude themselves. Every divorce will have some negative impact on children. In many instances, these negative consequences are not worth the marital offense. The top reasons for divorce have been cited as marital infidelity, emotional or physical abuse, boredom, lack of sexual activity, financial difficulties, substance abuse, career taking precedence over the marriage and even hobbies like sports, video gaming, etc. Most of these reasons when placed alongside the potential harm children suffer because of failed marriages look as insignificant as they really are. Furthermore, a University of Utah study on the issue found that children of failed marriages “are more likely to end their own marriages” thus perpetuating a “divorce cycle”.

In society today, the institution of marriage is not considered as scared as it once was. Many Hollywood celebrities keep their homes and vehicles far longer than they keep their spouses. The rest of the public sees this and feel as though if divorce is good enough for the rich and famous, it is good enough for them. However, fewer and fewer people are considering the price their children are having to pay for their selfish, self-serving and often whimsical actions. They fail to put the mental and physical health and well-being of their children above their own wants and needs. As a result, society is crumbling at the very foundation. Families are splintered and fractured and children are more often than not the casualties of marital divorce and warfare.

Frederick de Leon has won numerous literary awards for his poetry and short stories. He is currently working on establishing a publishing company and releasing his seven part philosophical fantasy series.  View profile

Divorce – how it affects the children

Couples who are about to get divorced should know that their decision could have a negative impact on their child’s long-term academic performance. The consequences of parental divorce may lead to higher school drop-out rates among children whose parents are getting a divorce, compared to their peers whose parents stay together. Such kids have just 40 to 50 per cent chance of completing high school education, to compare with children coming from stable families.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed the data registry of more than 9,400 kids who were born or adopted in 2-parent families in 1984 in Manitoba. All the kids then were tracked to 2004, until the age of 20, so the experts could find out what happened to them in their life. The study found that of those initial 9,403 children, 7,569 did not see a divorce in the family, 1,325 went through one parental divorce and 172 had lost one parent. Comparatively a small number — 285 kids — lived through two family transitions, divorce and remarriage, while 52 saw three transitions.

When all the data was finally analyzed, the experts found that 78.4 per cent of kids, who did not experience parental divorce or separation, completed successfully high school, well ahead of their peers with one change in the family household. There was not a significant difference between kids who experienced one divorce and those who had lost one of the parents. In both groups, about 60 per cent received high school diplomas. The biggest concern was for children in twice-divorced households.

The impact of Divorce or a split is worse on younger children than on older one may be because the younger children have fewer emotional skills to cope with the trauma. Or it could be that the earlier is a child when the first change in the family occurs, the more likely it is that his/her parents will go through more family changes.

However, although it is very important to work on a relationship for the sake of kids, there are situations where divorce can be a benefit to children. Very often people just say that they can do nothing more to save the marriage and there are some long-term consequences to those decisions that couples always should keep in mind.

Witnessing divorce in childhood causes rift in parental relationships in adult life

Washington, June 29 (ANI): A new study suggests that divorce has a bigger impact on child-parent relationships if it occurs in the first few years of the child’s life.

Those who experience parental divorce early in their childhood tend to have more insecure relationships with their parents as adults than those who experience divorce later, researchers said.

“By studying variation in parental divorce, we are hoping to learn more about how early experiences predict the quality of people’s close relationships later in life,” R. Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said.

Psychologists are especially interested in childhood experiences, as their impact can extend into adulthood, but studying such early experiences is challenging, as people’s memories of particular events vary widely.

He said that parental divorce is a good event to study, as people can accurately report if and when their parents divorced, even if they do not have perfect recollection of the details.

The study is published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (ANI)

Effect of timing of parental divorce on the vulnerability of children to depression in young adulthood.

Parental divorce is a stressful experience for children at any age and most children exhibit short-term developmental disruptions, emotional distress, and behavior problems. The age at the time of parental divorce has been found to affect the child’s short-term reactions to the separation (Hetherington, 1981; Richards & Dyson, 1982; Wallerstein & Blakeslee, 1989).

The impact of a child’s age and developmental phase at the time of divorce on later adaptation has received less attention than the impact on short-term reactions. Most studies have been designed to explore the impact on adolescents’ adaptation (Hetherington, 1972; Kalter & Rembar, 1981; adverse reactions adverse reactions, unfavorable reactions resulting from administration of a local anesthetic; responsible factors include the drug used, concentration, and route of administration.  associated with the timing of parental divorce. Frost & Pakiz (1990) have suggested that many adversities associated with parental divorce tend to diminish over time. In their follow-up study they found more Oedipal phase oedipal phase


In psychoanalytic theory, the stage in psychosexual development, usually occurring between the ages of 3 and 7, characterized by manifestation of the Oedipal complex.  than among younger and older girls and also among boys in general (Kalter & Rembar, 1981).

psychosomatic psychosomatic /psy·cho·so·mat·ic/ (-sah-mat´ik) pertaining to the mind-body relationship; having bodily symptoms of psychic, emotional, or mental origin.



1.  symptoms at the age of 16 (Aro & Rantanen, 1992). They were puberty puberty (py`bərtē), period during which the onset of sexual maturity occurs.  on average at the age of 13.

The questionnaires included a checklist of symptoms, age-appropriate versions of questions about personal characteristics, behavior, education, family background, personal relationships, life situation, life events, and social support (for details, see Aro, 1988). A Finnish modification for population studies of the short 13-item Beck’s Depression Inventory was used as a screening instrument for depression (Mattlar et al., 1987; Beck, Rial, & Rickels, 1974). It is otherwise identical with the 13-item Beck’s Depression Inventory, except that it includes introductory questions and an additional positive choice of answer for each item. S-BDI score five was used as a cut-off point. The additional positive choices do not affect the scoring of depression.

Comparison of the participants and nonparticipants indicated that the latter were more often males. Poor school performance was also more frequent among nonparticipants. No significant differences were found in parental divorce, parental socioeconomic status, or in the symptom scores at the age of 16. The preliminary statistical description was based on cross-tabulations, and loglinear modeling was used as a multivariate technique.


In the study population about one percent experienced parental divorce every year. In the group whose parents had divorced before school age (females n = 79, males n = 55) the majority (80%) had experienced divorce at the age of three to six. In the latency group (females n = 74, males n = 55) the frequency distribution was more or less even throughout the period, and in the adolescent group (females n = 39, males n = 32) it declined with age. Persons in different time-of-divorce groups did not differ from each other in terms of socioeconomic background.

Among males at the age of 22, depression was significantly more prevalent (24%) among those who had experienced parental divorce in latency as compared with those who had experienced it before school age or in adolescence. The prevalence in the two latter groups was very close to that of males from nondivorced families (7.8%). Among females, the time of parental divorce was not associated with the prevalence of depression in young adulthood. Depression was significantly more common in all groups than among females from nondivorced families (11.5%). Further, marital status marital status,

n the legal standing of a person in regard to his or her marriage state. , and employment status were minimal in both genders. No group differences were found in psychosomatic symptoms, self-esteem, or interpersonal problems.

There was no evidence of adaptation differences in adolescence; only minor differences were observed in psychosomatic symptoms and in self-esteem among girls. At the age of 16, girls tended to have fewer symptoms and higher self-esteem if they were older at the time of separation. Further, school performance, heavy alcohol consumption, and dating behavior did not differ significantly by the time of parental divorce.

Attempting to find an explanation for the increased prevalence of depression among latency-aged boys, school performance, alcohol consumption, and interpersonal problems in adolescence were examined. The inclusion of these factors in the model was supported by earlier research on the impact of parental divorce and by preliminary analyses. Earlier results indicated that school performance declines for some time after parental divorce (Bisnaire, psychopathology psychopathology /psy·cho·pa·thol·o·gy/ (-pah-thol´ah-je)

1. the branch of medicine dealing with the causes and processes of mental disorders.

2. abnormal, maladaptive behavior or mental activity.  because it may reduce the impact of the risk and negative life-chain reactions, or open new opportunities (Rutter, 1987). Heavy alcohol consumption by adolescents is often associated with developmental risk, and recent theories on the absolute terms (Alg.) such as are known, or which do not contain the unknown quantity.

See also: Absolute . The stress in latency may disturb psychological development in these respects (Camara & Resnick, 1989). Difficulties in leaving home and starting school may continue as difficulties in interpersonal relationships at age 16 and as depression in young adulthood. On the other hand, it is possible that the life remarriage Re`mar´riage   

n. 1. A second or repeated marriage.

Noun 1. remarriage – the act of marrying again , career prospects, and financial situations vary between families with children of different ages.

Latency-aged children may be more involved in parental disputes and more confused about the issues than are children of other ages (Johnston, Campbell, & Mayes, 1985). Compared with boys whose parents divorced in early childhood, the latency-aged boys may also have had a longer exposure to family Orthopsychiatry or·tho·psy·chi·a·try


The psychiatric study, treatment, and prevention of emotional and behavioral problems, especially of those that arise during early development.  62, 421-429.

Aro, H., & Rantanen, P. (1992). Parental loss and adolescent development. In C. Chiland, & G. Young (Eds.), New approaches to mental health from birth to adolescence. The Yearbook of the International Association for New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many , CT: Izard Iz´ard

n. 1. (Zool.) A variety of the chamois found in the Pyrenees. , & P. B. Read (Eds.), Depression in young people; Developmental and clinical perspectives (pp. 71-134). Child Psychiatry child psychiatry

Branch of medicine concerned with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders of childhood. It arose as a separate field in the 1920s, largely because of the pioneering work of Anna Freud. , 24, 563-574.

Kalter, N., Rembar, J. (1981). The significance of a child’s age at the time of parental divorce. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 51, 85-100.

Karasy, T. B. (1990). Toward a clinical model of psychotherapies This is an alphabetical List of Psychotherapies. It is an incomplete list and new or minor approaches are still being added.

See the main article Psychotherapy for a description of what psychotherapy is and how it developed. . American Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 133-147.

Klerman, G. L., Weissman, M. M., Runsville, B. J., & Chevron, E. S. (1984). Journal of Clinical Psychology The Journal of Clinical Psychology, founded in 1945, is a peer-reviewed forum devoted to psychological research, assessment, and practice. Published eight times a year, the Journal , 47, 361-367.

Mattlar, C. E., Raitasalo, R., Putkonen, A. R., Hyyppa, M. T., Englund, C., Helenius, H., & Knuts, L. R. (1987). The prevalence of depression in a random sample of Finns, and the association of depression with various cognitive functions. In Department of Health and Social Security The Department of Health and Social Security was a ministry of the British Government in existence for twenty years from 1968 until 1988, and was headed by the Secretary of State for Social Services. .

Rutter, M. (1987). of timing of parental divorce on the vulnerability of children…-a016423338

The Effects of Divorce on Children’s Well-Being

The body of research investigating divorce and its effects on children continues to grow. Due to high divorce rates, the effects of divorce on children are of interest to social scientists, mental health professionals, policy makers, and the general public. To date, one of the most influential works on the topic of children and divorce is Amato and Keith’s 1991 article “Parental Divorce and the well-being of Children: A Meta-Analysis” in which they report that children of divorced parents are disadvantaged in areas of psychological adjustment, well-being, academic achievement, and behavioral health.

The divorce process for children is the psychological equivalent of “lifting a hundred-pound weight over the head”. The divorce process has also been described as an experience of disorganization and reorganization that requires children to adjust to changes in their day-to-day lives. Children of divorced families carry the pain of divorce with them through the years. The absence of significant measures on common measures of psychological problems is not an indication that children are not affected by the divorce of their parents. Despite a lack of definitive evidence that divorce has negative effects on children, researchers continue to identify for empirical research, aspects of divorce that adversely affect children. Researchers are also concerned with the areas of children’s lives that are overwhelmed by these particular aspects of divorce. One observation among researchers is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between parental conflict and child well-being. It seems that when the level of discord between parents prior to divorce is low; divorce is unexpected and harder for the child to understand and therefore is more traumatic. Conversely, increased family conflict, rather than divorce, holds negative consequences for children. Not all distress is due to divorce but may also be due to the stressors of divorce such as parental conflict. This paradox represents the need for ongoing research on specific aspects of divorce such as parental conflict.

Psychological adjustment of the custodial mother is a factor of divorce that has also been investigated. A common pattern among single custodial mothers is depression, which poor parenting practices such as diminished affection, decreased positive involvement, increased irritability, punitiveness, and unpredictable, erratic discipline practices are attributed to. Additional factors that have been identified for empirical study on the topic of divorce and child well-being include level of involvement of the non-custodial parent, mother attribute, and changes in economic status.

Researchers have also identified several indicators of child well-being to test the effects of each divorce factor. Such factors include academic achievement (standardized tests, grades, teachers’ or parents’ ratings of school achievement, dropping out of high school), conduct (misbehavior, aggression, delinquency), self-concept (self-esteem, self-efficacy), social relations (popularity, cooperativeness, quality of peer relations), and psychological and emotional adjustment (depression, anxiety, general happiness). For the purposes of the present research, focus will be placed on psychological and emotional adjustment, how it has been defined and measured, and how it has been found to be impacted by divorce.

In an experiment by Kasen, Cohen, Brook and Hartmark (1996), psychological well-being was termed psychopathology and was measured in terms of three psychiatric disorders; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder. The three disorders were measured by obtaining responses to the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC-1) from the mother and child. The DSM-III-R criteria were used to make diagnoses based on the responses on the DISC-1. The researchers used syndrome scales of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder based on relevant items to aid in diagnosing each disorder. A diagnosis was given to children who met DSM-III-R criteria and who had scaled scores of more than 1 standard deviation above the population mean. The results of this study showed that boys in single-custodial-mother homes were over five times more likely to suffer from Major Depressive Disorder than were boys from intact families. Girls however, were no more at risk for major depressive disorder than were girls of intact families. Children living with a single custodial mother were almost two times more at risk for Overanxiety Disorder and almost three times more at risk for Separation Anxiety Disorder than children with continuously married parents. In general, this study found that compared to boys who have not experienced divorce, boys living with a single custodial mother were at a significant greater risk for all three of the psychopathology measures.

Variables of divorce such as child’s early development and environment, mother attributes (e.g., years of education and age at the time of her first marriage), family circumstances (e.g. income), and changes coinciding with disruption (i.e., no longer owning a home and no longer having more than $5 hundred in savings and assets). Child’s early development and environment were assessed using various measures. The Behavior Problems Index (BPI), which measures mothers’ reports of the frequency and types of behavior problems, was used. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R) was used to measure receptive vocabulary knowledge of orally presented words. In addition, the child’s weight at birth, birth order, measures of limiting health factors, age and ethnicity, were factored. Mothers’ attributes measures included years of education completed, score on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT), age at first marriage, and the number of children she had. Family circumstances were measured by accounting for family income for the previous year and indicators of material assets such as whether they own a house and whether they have assets totaling $5 hundred or more. The amount of time that children spent in poverty during the previous five years was also noted.

It is reasonable to hypothesize two things. The first is that there are specific aspects of the divorce process that are more likely to cause difficulty for children than others. Furthermore, it would not be unreasonable to assume that if parents were aware of these factors and were able to control them, lessen their impact, or eliminate them altogether; the negative effects of divorce on children could be significantly lessened. The second hypothesis that could be argued is that research has yet to pinpoint exactly what the primary negative factors of divorce are for children and exactly how they affect children’s lives.

The focus of this report was limited to measures of psychological well-being and factors of divorce that have been studied with regard to the well-being of children. Important factors such as sample sizes and characteristics, exact statistics for each outcome and procedural methods were beyond the scope of this article. These factors must be kept in mind when forming opinions based on simplistic reporting of the studies’ findings. The purpose of this article is merely to familiarize the reader with some of the considerations researchers have taken in their approaches to research on this topic.

As stated previously, the evidence based on research in this area is far from conclusive. There is a need for more cross-cultural research on divorce. Also, direct causal relationships have not yet been established between factors of divorce and child outcomes. For example, if depression in single custodial mothers is positively correlated with behavior problems in adolescent males, is that due to the mother’s depression or is it due to the mother’s neglect of her son due to the depression? There are numerous similar examples. These relationships remain unclear. Some research has included pre-divorce factors as control variables whereas other research has not. Theoretical frameworks would help to consolidate the research and provide direction for future research. They would also aid researchers and practitioners evaluate previous research. Clinicians often focus on the weaknesses of children trying to adapt to divorce and may minimize their strengths in coping. Conversely, researchers often focus on children’s strengths and minimize more subtle signs of distress. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assert that even though a lack of conclusive evidence exists, practitioners can still be proactive in helping to minimize the harmful effects of parental divorce on children.

Kyle Kornbau is a Liscensed Professional Counselor and a National Certified Counselor that owns and is a therapist at Stonebridge Counseling. Kyle has a MA in psychology from North Carolina Central University. Stonebridge Counseling ( ) is a professional counseling practice located in Apex, NC and serves adults, Adolescents and children for various psychological issues. If you live in the greater Raleigh, Cary, Holly Springs area and are in search for a therapist, call Stonebridge Counseling at 919-434-6398 or e-mail