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Probably one of the most frequently asked questions about family life over the last two decades has been, “Is divorce harmful to children?” Although this is a very important question, it is also important to ask and examine “what are the factors in divorcing families that contribute to children having difficulties and what are the factors that foster their adaptation?
Paul Amato and Kelly Emery (2007) indicate that there are several types of risks that may contribute to children’s difficulties. These are:
1. Parental Loss- divorce often results in the loss of contact with one parent and with this loss children also lose the knowledge, skills and resources of that parent.
2. Economic Loss- another result of divorce is that children living in single parent families are less likely to have as many economic resources as children living in intact families.
3. More Life Stress- divorce often results in many changes in children’s living situations such as changing schools, child care, and/or homes. Children often also have to make adjustments to changes in relationships with friends and extended family members. These changes create a more stressful environment for children.
4. Poor Parental Adjustment- generally how children adapt in families is due in part to the mental health of the parents. This is likely to be true for children in divorced families as well.
5. Lack of Parental Competence- much of what happens to children in general is related to the skill of parents in helping them develop. The competence of parents following divorce is likely to have a major influence on how the children are doing.
6. Exposure to Conflict Between Parents- conflict is frequently part of families and may be especially common in families that have undergone divorce. The degree to which children are exposed to conflict may have significant effects on children’s well-being.
Much of children’s post-divorce adjustment is dependent on the quality of their relationship with each parent before the divorce, the intensity and duration of the parental conflict, and the parent’s ability to focus on the needs of the children in the divorce.