Divorce brings change...not only for adults but for children.  Every family member must adapt to a new way of living.  The more parents know about divorce, the better they are able to cope with the changes and help their children adjust.

Divorce is painful.  Children feel hurt and helpless when parents divorce.  They are emotionally attached to both parents, and most children want their parents to stay together.  When divorce occurs, children, as well as parents, go through a grieving process that creates feelings of disbelief, anger, sadness, and depression.  Children experience a number of losses, including the loss of important relationships with family members and friends, change in environment, loss of family traditions, and loss of their sense of who they are.  Parents experience hurt and helplessness from what happened during the marriage, events that occurred at the time of separation, and the divorce process.  Divorce is an extremely difficult time, and parents tend to blame each other for problems.  They sometimes do and say terrible things to each other and are unaware of the negative impact their behavior has on children.

Children’s ability to cope during the divorce process and afterwards is based, in large part, on the parents’ relationship after the divorce and the parents’ relationships with their children.  Parents’ attitudes and actions make a big difference in how children adjust to divorce.  While parents may not be able to be friends after divorce, their dealings with each other and their promotion of positive relationships between their children and the other parent are key to children’s ability to cope.

Divorce is emotional for adults as well as children.  Stages of divorce include denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.

  • Denial is where it is hard to comprehend that the relationship is over.  Denial insulates from fear about the loss of the relationship and the feelings of rejection, loneliness, and depression.  Both adults and children may become withdrawn and isolated.  Alternatively, they may become highly active to block out the pain.
  • Bargaining is where adults attempt to determine ways the relationship may be saved suggesting steps such as counseling or otherwise working together to resolve differences.  Bargaining may also be where children make promises to do chores or to be good to save the relationship.
  • Anger occurs when the realization hits that needs have not been met in the relationship.  Anger may be directed inward or toward others.  Children may place blame on the parent they believe to be “at fault.”
  • Depression may set in when adults admit the relationship is over and are saddened by the failure.  Children may also go through depression displaying feelings of inadequacy about their ability to be loved.
  • Acceptance is when adults and children are able to adjust to the changes and move forward.  Anger, grief, and guilt dissolve, and focus on the future becomes possible.

Children need their parents to help them through the losses and changes they are experiencing.  To make healthy adjustments, 

  • Children need predictability...including regular routines, healthy environments, frequent and regular contact with both parents, continued contact with friends and relatives of both parents, and parents that put their children’s need for stability above the parent’s need for a new relationship.
  • Children need relationships with both parents...including each parent being respectful of the other parent, the ability to have family photos of the other parent, the ability to express their feelings for the other parent, the ability to have regular quality contact with the other parent (regardless of whether it is “scheduled” parenting time), and encouragement to maintain a strong bond with the other parent.
  • Children should be kept out of the middle...they are not messengers or spies or weapons against the other parent.  Parents should not question children as to the other parent’s home, should not argue with the other parent in front of the children, and should never discuss legal actions or encourage children to take sides.
  • Children need parents as appropriate adult role models...including parents that are courteous and civil in their dealings with one another, parents that follow through with their promises, parents that are open to their children’s changing needs, and parents that parent...and allow children to be children.
  • Children need parents that communicate openly and honestly...reassuring them that the divorce is not their fault and that although the marriage is over, the parent’s love in unending.

Due to the extensive nature of divorce disputes and the law involved,
this subject is best left to an in-depth discussion with your attorney.

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