Divorce can leave a child feeling sad, confused and uncertain about the future. If their parents seemed to get along well, the children may take the news of the divorce harder than if parents were visibly unhappy together. Most children of divorce have only known living in one household with both parents. The transition to a single-parent household can be difficult. When one parent leaves the home, it can feel like they are walking out of the child’s life rather than just their relationship with the other parent. Also, the child may have to adjust to a new lifestyle since the household loses one income.
The first two years after the divorce tends to be the most difficult for children. Some children seem to get along fine, but know that your child’s feelings won’t always be apparent. Research shows most effects are small to medium and some things, like distressing thoughts, are undiagnosable. Regardless of their behavior, at this stage, your child needs understanding and support.
Negative Effects of Divorce on Children
Statistics about the effects of divorce on children show that divorce increases risks for certain psychological issues and delinquent behaviors. Children of divorced parents are at a higher risk for the following:
• Poor performance in school
• Trouble with authority figures
• Trouble getting along with peers
• Low self-esteem
• Emotional distress
• Risky behavior (e.g., drug use)
In adulthood, children of divorce are at a higher risk for poverty, early marriage and divorce. It’s important to note that the majority of children of divorce do not go through the most serious of the negative outcomes (e.g., dropping out of school). Emotional distress brought on by the immediate changes related to the divorce is the most common outcome.
Post-divorce, custodial parents often take a hard turn into being too strict or too lax when it comes to discipline.
Dealing with an overly strict parent may hurt the child’s ability to be independent. Too much freedom could embolden the child to engage in harmful behaviors. Another possibility is the custodial parent becoming less affectionate than they once were due to stress caused by the divorce and greater parenting responsibilities. Lack of affection can leave the child feeling alienated and unlovable. A parent moving outside of the household could compound these emotions. The child’s relationship with the parent who leaves the home (who’s more often the father) may become strained. It’ll take time for the child to adjust to visits, especially if they spend considerably less time with the noncustodial parent than before. Visits could be uncomfortable, and exchanges could make the child feel anxious.
Positive Effects Of Divorce On Children
Many are quick to assume divorce is bad for children, but this isn’t always the case. It might even be the best way to go. This is especially true where one parent has been abusive toward their spouse or child.
Some parents consider staying together for the kids. However, it’s better to divorce than to subject your child to constant arguments. If the relationship is volatile, divorce could spare children from a lot of emotional turmoil. Single parenting allows children to get to know their parents individually. This often helps the parent gain their child’s confidence and thus develop a closer bond.
Divorce might even improve the parent–child relationship. For example, it can encourage parents who have had less active roles in their child’s lives to step up. A parent who won’t get to see the child when they get home from work every day will typically make an extra effort to have frequent visits with the child.
Potential Effects of Divorce By Age Group
Children under 2 are generally less affected by divorce, unless there’s conflict between parents as they get older. The effects of divorce on young children include trouble adjusting to a visitation schedule and fear that their parents will “divorce” them too. For school-aged children, the conflict is often harder than the actual divorce.
Teenagers may feel angry about the divorce and the changes that come along with it. They often blame one parent for the divorce or resent both parents. Due to their maturity, they may be able to better understand why the divorce happened.
The effects of divorce on grown children are often overlooked since adults are more likely to be independent and mature enough to handle the news. Still, grown children can experience sadness, anger and confusion just like minor children.
Adult children are also more likely to have to step up to provide for their parents. For example, a parent who has to leave the marital home may need to live with their adult child. This can add stress to the already-difficult situation of marriage breakdown.
Tips For Helping Your Child Adjust After Divorce
When divorce is inevitable, there are actions you can take to help your child cope.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings
Your child may show a myriad of emotions after your divorce. The best thing you can do is recognize what they’re going through. There’s nothing wrong with reassuring your child. However, you should not downplay their feelings. Try to talk with them about the change.
If they’re unwilling to talk or you don’t see improvement, contact their pediatrician or doctor. They may refer your child to individual therapy or refer you all to family therapy. Also, look into support groups for children of divorce. Being around other kids who are going through the same thing may bring your child comfort.
You’ll want to put on a united front as parents to show your children you’ll still be part of their lives. But you don’t have to be friends. In fact, a friendship could confuse your child as they wonder why you’re able to get along so well post-divorce but couldn’t do so during your marriage. Likely, you’ll have to play co-parenting by ear and make adjustments as you go. At a minimum, don’t talk badly about the other parent in front of your child.
Don’t put the children in the middle of your conflicts. When you’re going through litigation, it can be tempting to try to get the child on your side. However, this hurts the child more long term than it could ever help your case. Restricting contact between your child and your ex, asking your child who’s their favorite parent or telling them to relay messages to the other parent could add extra stress to the already stressful transition.
Be consistent with discipline
Children of divorce are at a higher risk for delinquent behavior. Lay down rules, and enforce them. This will give the child structure, earn their respect and discourage delinquency. It’s easier for children to follow the rules that are the same within both households. Otherwise, they may question one parent’s authority. If a child has lost cell phone privileges in one home, they should lose them in the other. Even if the other parent isn’t cooperative, hold firm in your household rules.
Pay attention to your child’s life
Another way to help your child cope is to invest in what’s going on in their life. Regularly check in on their grades, social life, interests, etc. This will help you become closer to the child and could lessen the chance of them engaging in risky behaviors.
Negotiate Your Divorce, Without an Attorney
Although divorce is one of the most complex and emotional legal processes in family law, not all couples require in-depth court assistance to end their marriage. If you and your spouse are on the same page about what you want for your family, you may be able to negotiate a divorce settlement on your own.
When you and your spouse decide to divorce, if you can communicate, try to talk about each of your ideal outcomes for child custody, visitation, child support, property division, and alimony. It’s no surprise that children fare much better after a divorce if the parents can continue to facilitate a quality relationship with the child and each other. If you find that you’re on the same page and are both willing to put your agreement in writing, you might be able to save time and money by not hiring an attorney to go to trial for your case. However, even the most agreeable couples can hit roadblocks during the settlement process, so be prepared to consider mediation and/or hire an attorney if that happens.
Another thing to consider is hiring a consulting attorney, who can simply perform a review of your proposed divorce settlement before you sign it. It’s important to understand that when you agree to the terms of the divorce, and a judge signs your judgment, you will be bound by that agreement and court order. If you think you entered into a bad deal or agreed to something you didn’t understand, your only recourse will be to go back to court to try and change your final order. But undoing a divorce agreement is difficult and generally only allowed under very limited circumstances. For this reason, it’s wise to hire a divorce lawyer to review your settlement agreement before you sign it.
Ascent Law Firm Attorney Can Explain Your Rights
Although you might be hesitant to hire an attorney to get you through your divorce, you should understand that experienced, local divorce lawyers know the law, especially as it pertains to your state. Every state has different divorce requirements, so unless you’re confident in your ability to interpret statutes and correctly complete legal paperwork, you might consult with a family law attorney in your area.
It’s a good idea to interview a few attorneys before you decide on one. You should ask whether the attorney is in favor of alternative dispute resolution or, mediation to resolve disputes. If yes, then your attorney will probably not advocate for a trial unless your spouse is uncooperative or unreasonable. If the attorney you interview doesn’t have experience with negotiations, settlements, or is a zealous advocate of litigation, you might want to move on with your search. Most attorneys will advocate for their clients while also attempting to resolve the case as quickly as possible.
Consider Collaborative Practice for Your Divorce
While most attorneys are willing to utilize alternative divorce solutions, like mediation, some are trying a new divorce method called “collaborative practice,” which is where the clients and lawyers agree, in advance, not to litigate in court. In collaborative practice, both sides agree to share information voluntarily and work towards a settlement.
In order to use this process, your spouse will need to agree to a collaborative divorce and hire a collaborative lawyer as well. Both spouses and their attorneys will sign a contract that states if the parties can’t reach an agreement using the collaborative process, each client will hire a new attorney to handle the contested case. By eliminating the option for trial, both parties (and their attorneys) will work harder to settle, which saves both time and money.
When Should You Hire an Attorney?
There are certain situations where you should always hire an attorney. If there’s a history of domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or sexual abuse, hiring an attorney is the best way to protect your rights. When there is a power imbalance and/or violence between partners, a fair negotiation can become impossible.
If your spouse hires an attorney, you should do the same. Although you might feel like you can represent yourself in your divorce, when one side has an attorney and the other doesn’t, it often results in the unrepresented party walking away without a fair deal. Do yourself a favor, hire an attorney and level the playing field.
Although no divorce is pleasant, some are outright unbearable, especially if the other party in your case is hiding assets, destroying property, wasting marital funds, or threatening you with physical or financial ruin for filing for divorce. If you find that you can’t work with your spouse, hiring a qualified attorney to represent you may be your only option. Not only will the attorney advocate for your rights throughout the divorce, but there’s also no question that you will feel some relief from the stress of your divorce knowing that you have someone in your corner.
What If I Can’t Afford an Attorney?
Depending on where you live, divorce can cost more than $25,000 when you hire an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, you can call your local legal aid office to see if you qualify for assistance. Most legal aid programs have limited resources, so you might only have the opportunity to speak with an attorney over the phone. In some cases, especially those involving domestic violence, legal aid can furnish an attorney to work with you for the entirety of your case.
If you don’t qualify for legal aid, you may be able to find an attorney willing to take your case “pro bono,” which means for free. Some states, but not all, require attorneys to provide a specific number of pro bono hours per year. The best way to find a pro bono or low-cost attorney is to contact your state bar association and ask for referrals. Although not all attorneys have the resources to provide free services, some may offer lower prices or payment plans.
Finally, some family law courthouses offer clinics or volunteer legal staff who can point you to the right paperwork, review settlement agreements, and even assist in filling out paperwork.
Free Initial Consultation with Lawyer
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!
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— Ascent Law (@AscentLaw) September 7, 2022