Please read this important guest post from Los Angeles Family Law Attorney Edwin Castellanos.
While reliable information about the psychological impact of divorce on children is still being gathered and analyzed, there are a number of generalities that can be stated. The decision to divorce is obviously not one to embark upon lightly and this will be a major life-changing event for most children. In other words, while the divorce itself may not effect children negatively per se, they will realize that their life was much different both before and after this event.
Challenging New Family Circumstances
When a child sees that their parents no longer love each other and break their commitment to each other, it can create some challenges. From this point on, they are most likely going to be mainly in the presence of one parent or the other (usually the mother), and not both at the same time. They might even be forced to move to a new home and possibly attend a new school.
One of the first challenges that they will be forced to deal with, especially for younger children, is a certain amount of uncertainty. They often do not know what will happen or even what to expect. One typical concern is if there will still be a level of conflict between mom and dad. Also, how will they be parented and who should they listen to. This can get very complicated when the parents try to use the child as a pawn.
Age Of The Child Is An Important Factor
It is also interesting to note that some of the typical responses to divorce in children may vary depending on their age at the time of the event. If this occurs while they are still in childhood, it may intensify their dependence on at least the main parent. This seems only natural since they are heavily dependent on their parents. Their trust will now be shaken since both parents are behaving in very undependable ways. The child will usually try to allay their feelings of loss by wishful thinking that mom and dad will get back together at some point. When both parents are together at family gatherings and holidays, this gives reinforcement to this wishful thinking.
If the divorce happens while the child is an adolescent they will typically have an opposite response and accelerate their own independence. They may deal with things in a more aggressive manner, reacting angrily and many times in a rebellious fashion, disregarding family discipline and set on taking care of themselves since the parents have failed to keep their commitments. The adolescent may even try to get back at their parents, thinking that since they put themselves first, he/she is now justified in putting themselves first. Of course, if this increased level of independence can be harnessed with a corresponding increase in responsibility, it might be a good thing.
Helping A Child To Adjust
One of the best things a parent can do to help lessen the psychological impact of divorce on children is by establishing a new order as quickly as possible. This helps to build a new sense of predictability. Focus on new routines, rituals, and reassurance. Set up household and visitation rules so they know what to expect. Also allow the child to create rituals in order to feel more in control of their life and always provide continuous reassurance that they still both love them and will make this new arrangement work.
Edwin Castellanos – Attorney & Managing Partner of the law firm of Castellanos & Associates, APLC. He is an experienced divorce lawyer in Los Angeles, California and has been practicing exclusively in the area of divorce and family law for over 17 years.