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Here’s the truth about how divorce affects children

If you’re thinking of getting a divorce, you might be worried about the effect it will have on your children. You may have heard alarming statistics about children whose parents get divorced. Some of the common claims are that these children become emotionally stunted, fail at school or become sexually promiscuous.

Fortunately, the real picture isn’t quite so bleak. Many children actually fare better after their parents get divorced than if they had stayed together. You don’t want bad information to feed worries about your kids and keep you in a failing marriage. You want the truth about how divorce affects children.

The real problem is conflict between parents

According to reports from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS), children are often better off when parents divorce if the marriage had been full of conflict. The children who suffer more from divorce are those whose parents’ marriage wasn’t clearly marked by conflict. In other words, the children tend to do better when divorce leads to lower conflict for the parents and children.

There are two big reasons a divorce can hurt children

The IFS materials went beyond the idea of conflict to look at how divorce could hurt children. The researchers noted two main reasons it does:

  • Divorce leads to extra costs and limited resources for parents. In turn, the non-custodial parents must work harder to spend time with the children, and many parents don’t make the extra effort. This leads to limited daily interaction, and the children suffer for the lack of parental guidance and influence.
  • Children don’t understand the reasons for the divorce in the ways that parents do. Especially if they didn’t see open conflict prior to the divorce, children may think the split is somehow their fault. They struggle to process the events, and parents don’t always understand what their children need.

These are two big reasons children may feel hurt. However, they are not the only things that can lead to long-term problems.

The first year is typically the hardest for children

As many have noted, most children suffer in the first year or two after a divorce. However, most also bounce back by the end of those first one or two years. The symptoms that children tend to show include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger

If you look at them, these symptoms largely echo everything you’d expect from an adult moving through the stages of grief and denial. Children have trouble processing the divorce, but they eventually do. With help, most realize the divorce isn’t their fault, and they adjust to their new lives.

Children of different ages process divorce differently

Verywell Family summarized the different ways children deal with divorce. The fears and stress divorce may cause them can vary according to their age and maturity:

  • Young children may worry that if their parents can stop loving each other, their parents may stop loving them, too.
  • Grade school children may worry that they are somehow to blame. These children often think everything is “about them,” including whether their parents’ marriage succeeds or fails.
  • Teenagers may resent their parents for causing them new hardships. They may unfairly assign more of the blame to one parent or fault them both equally.

Because children think differently about divorce, it’s important that you listen to your child’s concerns, understand them and address them in a way that meets their needs. They cannot process events at your level.

The evidence shows that children benefit from the father’s involvement

Unfortunately, while the data suggest that most children recover, there are still some negative results linked to divorce. One of these is an increase in risk-taking behaviors.

Studies have found that children whose parents are divorced tend to use more drugs and alcohol than their peers whose parents remain married. They also tend to experiment with the substances at an earlier age. Similarly, children of divorce tend to engage in sexual relations at earlier ages and with more partners. This is especially true for children who lose contact with their fathers.

Children benefit from strong, stable relationships with both parents

There are many studies about the effects of divorce on children. One thing that remains consistent among them is the fact that, unless one of the parents is abusive, children benefit from strong relationships with both parents. To an extent, Georgia’s custody laws reflect this. The courts do not make custody decisions in favor of either the mother or father prior to a hearing of the facts.

Accordingly, it’s not just in your best interest to ensure you get to keep spending time with your child; it’s likely in your child’s best interests as well. Whether you negotiate your custody arrangement through mediation or take the decision to court, you want to get to the facts. You and your child have rights. A good custody arrangement will honor your rights and support your child’s future health.