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Divorce and the American Family: Its Problems and Effects

In society today, divorce is becoming a way of life for many people. Millions of children have been a part of divorced families since 1972. It is estimated that over one third of the nation’s children will be affected by divorce before the age of 18.

At each level of society, it appears that families are trying to make their marriages work. It is felt sometimes that parents should stay together “for the sake of the children”. However, if divorce is unavoidable, older children are sometimes called upon to participate in the divorce process to determine custody. Legally, one parent gets custody and makes most of the decisions, while the other supports the children financially. Socially, a family no longer shares a household, but may have two homes to live in at different times.

Until the 20th Century, custody usually went to the fathers. Today, this has changed. Ninety percent of the time the mothers receive custody of their children. Some people, however, feel joint custody is better, the best of both worlds, and works best for the children involved. Most often today, custody is given to mothers because fathers do not want the responsibility of primary custody.

Today, child support is a big issue in the United States. A government survey taken by the US Census Bureau, discovered that only 40.7% of divorced parents were receiving child support. The father’s excuse often is that he doesn’t get to see the children often enough. They feel that visitation determines whether or not they pay their support or not. This, as we know the law to be now, is not the case. Fathers are saying that if the government wants to take money out of their pay for not paying child support, they will not see the children at all. In this case, the children are the ones who suffer the most. The lack of clothes and food means that there is nowhere else for the mother to go except welfare; if she is unable to support her children on her own financially.

Other problems occur when fathers visit their children just from guilt or a feeling of loss. Some parents do not understand that visitation helps the other parent have some time off from child care. This demonstrates to the children that his or her parents are still fairly sociable, and that the child will be cared for by both parents at different times. It is not commonly known that visitation is the right of the child, not that of the parent. It can make children more aware of the reality of their parents’ divorce, and will allow them to adjust to a new beginning.

Single parent households are becoming more prevalent and accepted in today’s society. One third of all children are living in single parent homes today. One third of those homes headed by women are below the poverty level. Sometimes single parent situations cause problems between the parent and the child. It makes a parent feel trapped in a child’s world, and triggers emotional problems for the children, making the situation complicated. Many parents feel that it is time that society recognizes the problem by making more child care facilities available for the benefit of both the parent and child. Just as parents experience relief once the “war” is over, children are usually happier when parents stop fighting.

Children play an important part in many divorce cases today. They sense it, feel it, and are affected by it. To many children, divorce is a nightmare. They often become of secondary importance because of their parents who are caught up in court battles, and often forget how badly children are affected. No two children have the same responses to their parents’ divorce. Some typical responses are as follows:

Some children experience confusion and helplessness, have little or no sense of control, a fear of relationships with one parent or the other, trouble sleeping, concentrating, and controlling body functions. They often experience different moods from withdrawal such as aggression, loneliness, and depression overall. Children often ask themselves, “Where will Daddy live? Who will take care of Mommy? What’s going to become of me?” They often feel that they are the cause of the divorce. Keith Black of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Child Guidance said, “I have talked to children from divorced or separated homes, and they keep wondering and asking themselves if they are to blame.” Young children have problems understanding what the situation is. However, they do have some understanding. They don’t have the confidence or vocabulary to state how they feel. Their feelings are like a bomb waiting to go off sometime in their lives. Children often experience conflicts of loyalty towards each parent. Young children may throw temper tantrums, while older ones may scold or criticize their parents for destroying the family unit. Children experience loss of self esteem. Their feelings can handicap behavior towards in present and future relationships. England’s Children’s Society in 1983 published a book called Children of Divorce: The report of an ecumenical working party on the effects of divorce on children. According to the book, “divorce may affect children detrimentally in the long term, and probably does so to a greater extent than is commonly realized”.

There are also many effects of divorce on a child’s socialization. A child may experience anxiety, among other things. The age of the mother is an important factor as well. Older, more experienced mothers are more capable of coping with the problem of a divorce. This may affect the way the child reacts to the situation. It is found that children living in broken homes are better off than children living in unhappy, but intact homes. Children and parents seem to “come alive” after the cloud has lifted. They suffer in the first year, but improvements are made in the second year and thereafter; often times with the help of family therapy.

Children aged three to six need to be emotionally involved with both parents. Children aged six to twelve move out of a highly charged relationship with the parent of the opposite sex. He or she feels less dependant on him or her. A child of this age may not suffer as much, because he or she may understand the situation to a greater degree. A person of the same sex in the household is essential to provide support towards a child from a divorced family. A child will feel unsure until he or she knows the truth about his or her parents’ divorce. If after many years the divorced parents still fight, children may experience social deterioration with their friends. Some children’s emotions are apparent, while others lurk beneath the surface. Years after parents’ divorce, children continue to suffer emotionally. “These children are very frightened, they have a sense that the family that has been protecting them, the whole scaffolding under them, is collapsing”.

When children from a divorced family get older, they feel hey must deal with anger issues, rejection, and guilt towards their parents. To avoid this, they develop strategies. They postpone or avoid marriage; however, most young adults, in most cases, are willing to take chances and do better than their parents did in their marriage. Their main goal is to make sure the same thing does not happen to them.

The following are some suggestions to parents on what they can do to help their children in their time of need: Parents should discuss why the divorce is happening, tell their children how much they are loved and wanted, that they are not to blame, and that they know how they feel. Parents are urged to hold and comfort them as much as possible as well. They should also not make negative comments about their mate in front of the children, making sure that they do not turn them into messengers or spies. It is better for a parent to minimize the changes in the family’s life until they are able to adjust. Also, a parent should be dependable and be there when their children need them the most. Parents are urged not to try to buy their children’s affection as well. If a parent has custody, they should not deprive other relatives the right of visitation. In this case as well, a parent should move either close to or with relatives if the spouse moves far away; the children need role models. Finally, a parent is urged to continue his or her obligation to their children. Using these ideas, parents can cope with the situation, making divorce an easier thing for everyone to deal with.

Barbara Bearson, Co-Author of Survival Guide for the Suddenly Single , suggests something like this should be said to the child to explain the divorce: “Daddy and I didn’t get along. We stopped liking each other and fought a lot. If a husband and wife stop loving and liking each other and make themselves unhappy, it is better for them to live separately”.

Today, divorce is becoming more and more a part of people’s lives. Recent studies show the findings of effects on both adults and children. James Anthony, President of the American Academy of Child Psychology stated, “The divorce rate is a problem, reconstituted families are a problem, and growing up, in every decade, is becoming more complicated business.”

Andrew, John, Divorce and the American Family, New York and London, Frank Watts, 1978.

List, Julie Autmn, The Day the Loving Stopped: A daughter’s view of her parent’s divorce, New York, Julie Autmn List, 1980.

“Children of Divorce: growing up vowing the same thing won’t happen to me”, New York Times, April 13, 1982.

Taylor, John C., “Children of Divorce“, The Plain Truth, pg’s 18-21, January, 1984

Goldberg, Bernard, “All Dads Aren’t Deadbeats”, Newsweek, pg’s 10-11, February 6, 1984.

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Kids from Broken Homes – the Effects of Divorce

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The Following are what you need to know about children and teens of divorce:

The window of opportunity theory states that there is "a time frame between six months and one year following the divorce where crisis can be prevented with children and teens."

Children tended to view life in extremes (that is, fighting all the time or never fighting) while teens had a more life-like view of their parents” conflicts.

Before divorce, domestic violence is common

Kids or teens are no longer surprised with marital issues

Girls tend to feel post-divorce stress more than boys, or do they? This may be because boys are in a phase of greater denial of their feelings than girls.

Majority of teens and children have nobody to talk to about the divorce.

About 65% of teens and children believed divorce led to their serious personal problems.

Three out of four teens shoplifted after their parents divorce.

More than half of teens and children used drugs or alcohol during or after their parent”s divorce.

Running away from home is customary in single-parent families.

A clear sign of emotional struggles is fighting.

Suicidal thoughts are common among children and teens following the parent”s divorce.

After the divorce, these kids or teens usually are angry with themselves and with others.

Sleeping problems were present in most cases after the parent”s divorce.

After parents divorce, one in ten girls develops troublesome eating habits that can lead to an eating disorder.

One in three teens commits theft after divorce.

Many teens and children drank alcohol after their parents” divorce.

A majority of teenagers and nearly 20 percent of children got sexually involved during and after their parents” divorce.

Cruelty to animals often reflects past child abuse.

More than half of the teens and one-third of the children feel like hurting others after the divorce.

Following a divorce, few teens or children talk to parents about their real problems.

Nearly two in ten teens and one in ten kids are arrested after their parents” divorce.

Church staff and volunteers have not observed these problems.

Most problems were discovered by teachers and school officials.

Majority of children and teens think their emotional problems are obvious or transparent.

A lot of children and teens feel personally responsible for their parents” divorce.

Children believe that the responsibility for divorce lies with their fathers.

The most usual factors involved in divorce are money, physical violence, arguing, communication, and third-party relationships.

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The Effects Of Divorce On Children

Divorce affects children of all ages. Even adult children suffer emotionally when their parents divorce. When a couple decides to divorce, they must think about how their actions will affect their children and work to limit the negative effects of divorce.

In cases, children benefit emotionally from divorce. A physically or emotionally abusive home hinders a child’s development and causes psychological issues for the child. After a divorce, one or both of the parents may decide to remarry. Children benefit from gaining additional family members.

Divorce holds less social stigma in today’s culture than in the past. Chances are high that most of a child’s friends live with a divorced parent. This cultural attitude lessens the social impact a child feels after his or her parents divorce.

In spite of these positive effects, children suffer many negative effects in the wake of divorce. Unable to express their feelings or process the nuances of the adult relationship, children can respond with emotional withdrawal and depression or aggression and defiance. Suicide, eating disorders, bullying or emotional outbursts provide children with an outlet for their emotions. These effects may appear immediately after a divorce or exhibit themselves over time as the child processes the realities of divorce.

Children may take of responsibility for their parents’ separation. They analyze their actions and question what they could have done differently in order to keep their parents together. This irrational thinking causes a child to strive to reunite the parents. It also results in feelings of rejection. A child rationalizes the parent who left must not love her.

They may blame one parent for leaving. This displaced loyalty prevents them from seeing both sides of the story and limits attempts at reconciliation. The children may never experience a close and loving relationship with the parent they hold responsible for breaking up the family.

A child may experience intense jealousy when one parent moves on and starts a new family. The child may resist visiting the parent or participating in the new family’s life. If the custodial parent attempts to remarry, the child may seek to prevent a new relationship from forming. In the back of the child’s mind, his or her parents reconcile and return the family to the normal they once knew.

Children with divorced parents learn that it is okay to quit in life. Instead of seeking to resolve conflict, they walk away from relationships, sports, a career and other activities. Without healthy examples of conflict resolution, children of divorce are more likely to seek divorce if they do choose to marry.

Divorce brings change. A new house, school, friends and living situation creates anxiety and stress. A child’s grades at school, socializing experiences or sleep patterns indicate the child’s reaction to the changes caused by divorce.

If the child’s custodial parent struggles financially, the child may grow up in poverty. Despite receiving child support payments, single parents often make less money than married parents make.

Children of divorce spend their lives carrying emotional baggage from their parents’ divorce. While each child responds differently, no child remains unscathed. Parents should try every possible avenue to repair their relationship. When divorce remains the only option, both parents should care for the child’s emotional and physical needs.

Provide a professional counselor to talk with the children about their feelings, questions and concerns. While every child will experience negative effects from divorce, wise parents strive to make the transition as smooth as possible in order to limit the negative effects of divorce on children. Brad Hart

Children and Divorce – The Most Common Effects of Divorce on Children

Children and divorce statistics show that an overwhelming 50% of marriages end up in divorce these days. The odds are even higher if it’s the second or third marriage. Divorce can be a very difficult time for children no matter what age they are in. There are so many changes to deal with, especially since the divorce will shake up their sense of security. When it comes to children and divorce, parents must take an active role in determining whether their children are having a hard time coping with the stress of their parents splitting up. Here are a few of the most common effects of divorce on children and some watrning signs to look out for:

  1. Trying to “repair” parents’ relationship – No matter how much you try to talk to children, most of them still feel that their parents’ divorce is somehow their fault. Younger children are especially more likely to think this and to try and do something to correct themselves and bring their parents back together. Sometimes children will resort to negative behavior like acting out and rebelling, sometimes they will try to live out what they think is the perfect kind of child in the hopes that if they are perfect, their family will be back together again.
  2. Depression – Children who are having a hard time coping with their parents’ divorce can sometimes very quietly sink to depression which is a very dangerous thing. They may suddenly stop wanting to go out with friends, lose interest in the things and activities that used to matter a lot to them, stop eating or sleeping regularly, and more. Sometimes, parents are so busy taking care of the divorce that they don’t notice their children getting depressed. When depression is left untreated or unaddressed, it can lead to very dire consequences like making poor choices, developing an eating disorder, hurting one’s self, or even attempting suicide.
  3. Anger – Children who are not adjusting well to a divorce can also often display anger and aggression, especially towards younger siblings or classmates. Teenagers are especially prone to becoming angry and aggressive as they judge the decision of their parents.
  4. Anxiety – Children and divorce can be a very sensitive issue. Children whose parents go through divorce may feel an acute anxiety and fear about their own future relationships. Young children may have a hard time understanding about the permanency of a divorce and feel anxious about the stability and security of their life.

Parents must actively seek help for their children during their divorce, especially if the children seem to exhibit changes in their behavior and patterns. It’s important to be aware that during divorce, many children go through diminished parenting because parents often exhibit disorganization, anger (at their spouse and the situation), and a reduced ability to see to their children’s need. Overburdening children can be very overwhelming and may have long-term effects on them. Consulting a counselor or a child mental health professional can help you give significant support to your children during such a difficult and turbulent time.

For more information on how to minimize the negative effects of divorce to children, visit by clicking on children and divorce or copying and pasting on your browsers in order to access articles that will help you manage the effects of divorce to your children.

Divorced Parents of Teens


For teens, their parents’ divorce can have a significant impact on their life. They feel alone and unsure of the future, and they experience a wide range of emotions. They can feel guilty, thinking that their parents’ divorce would not have happened had they argued less or made better grades. They can feel loneliness and depression when their parents are too involved in their own emotions to notice them. Others may have difficulty with dating relationships and sexuality as they see their parents starting new relationships.

They feel protective of one parent or the other, they may blame one parent over the other or try to play both parents against each other. They also could feel relieved if there was a lot of conflict. Whatever the case may be their feelings are real and troublesome. It is important to emphasize to teens that parents divorce for many reasons, some of which are related to problems that have existed for years, and that the decision had nothing to do with them. It is also important to emphasize that the parents aren’t divorcing THEM. Let them know that you still love them and will continue to be involved in their lives.

One of the most important things divorced parents of teens can do is to maintain consistency in rules between the two households as much as possible. This is a significant component of co-parenting: parents working together to support and monitor their children after they are divorced. Effective co-parenting involves helping with anything when needed, providing encouragement about grades, and enforcing discipline in a consistent manner. If one parent doesn’t cooperate with the other about rules and discipline, thinking they are being the teens ‘buddy’, they are actually creating confusion and uncertainty that could cause their teen to act out.

Divorced parents of teens should speak positively of the other parent and avoid putting them in the middle of conflicts or disagreements, regardless of their personal feelings. Fathers need to remain consistently involved in teens’ activities, and continue providing warmth and support in whatever way is needed. Both parents should avoid talking to their teen about their own feelings regarding the divorce. Doing so could result in your teen’s feeling responsible for YOU. Remember….you are the parent. They should not feel responsible for your well being. Avoid using visitation rights as a bargaining tool with your teen – it will undermine their confidence in you as a parent and strain your relationship.

Be aware of your own adjustment to divorce, and of the grief process that people go through after the loss of a marriage relationship. Don’t let your anger or sadness spill over into your relationship with your teen. Seek counseling or a divorce support group for yourself if you are having difficulty adjusting to the loss. Be alert to any changes in your teen’s life; Any changes in grades or changes in the people they choose for friends can be a signal to you to pay closer attention. Any adjustment problems your teen may have are most likely to occur within two years after the divorce. Those who seem to be adjusting “too well”, saying “I’m cool with it” or “it’s no big deal” may be in denial about the divorce. It may be too soon for them to fully grasp that their parents are divorced. Keep in mind that each teen is an individual and will adjust at their own rate.

Remember that your teen needs to maintain relationships with extended family members, including your ex-spouse’s family members; do whatever you can to support and reinforce those bonds. Remember also to keep your promises, expressed and implied. It’s easy to make more or unrealistic promises when your teen is hurting after divorce – don’t compound the problems.

Here is a few other things to avoid with your teen after divorce:

*Don’t use them as a spy or messenger regarding the other parent

*Don’t use them as a weapon in conflict or visitation issues

*Don’t argue with your ex-spouse when the teen can hear you

*Make it a point to have family time

*Be available to listen even if they are angry and blaming you

*Talk about the future

*Reassure them about money issues and be honest about them

Most teens will eventually adapt to their parents’ divorce and will develop a more realistic understanding of finances. They will also have an opportunity to develop more maturity that comes with more responsibilities after their parents’ divorce. Remember that kids learn what they live, and you are their role model, especially after divorce. They have the opportunity to learn that problems happen in life, but we can respond to them in positive mature ways.

Merlene Bishop

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My mission is to reach out and help others with divorce recovery issues. I have taught divorce recovery at a local community college for five years, and have been blogging about divorce recovery for the past three months. I have a Master’s degree in counseling and have worked with families in mental health settings.

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