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Children and Divorce
(provided by Howard Raab , Esq.)


Divorce is a fact of life for many families. According to 1987 Census Bureau statistics, almost 4 million American couples with children are divorced. While there are differing opinions about the effect of divorce on children, it is clear that there are things parents can do to help their children deal with the stresses and painful feelings divorce creates. The most important is that children need to feel loved and secure regardless of the marital status of their parents.

Conflict between their parents is very difficult for children. Social adjustment is affected to a major degree by whether children are in a situation where parents create a harmonious home environment. The more conflict there is between the parents, the more probability there is that the child will feel s/he is the problem. In addition, saying negative about the other parent creates split loyalties which are very destructive for children.

The behavior on the part of the parents that is most highly correlated with good adjustment and the maintenance of self-control for children going through divorce is cooperation between the parents. This includes maintaining agreement on child rearing policies, low conflict between parents, and active support on the part of the non-custodial parent in child rearing.

Adjustment to the changes in the family is affected by the degree to which parents are able to continue positive relationships with their children despite conflicts with the other parent. Children need to know that parents individually take an interest in them. Positive relationships with both parents mitigate many negative effects of divorce. Perhaps understanding this can counter the temptation to use the child as a weapon.


Sadness, Depression. May be characterized by fatigue, poor decision making, withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, change in eating or sleeping habit, passivity, hopelessness.

Denial. Might be out of hope that if it isn't discussed, parents may change their minds. Behavior may vary from withdrawn or passive to aggressive and acting out.

Embarrassment. Fear of pity, loss of respect, lack of understanding from others of what they are going through.

Anger. If not fueled by parents, runs its course in a year. May be disguised as other feelings or may disguise other feelings (i.e. bullying or fear). May express itself as brooding or introspective anger as well as aggressive physical or verbal anger.

Guilt. Children often feel that they cause the problems between the parents. May be a form of anger unconsciously directed.

Concern about being cared for. Elementary kids: fear of abandonment. Children have a limited concept of time and an intense psychological and emotional dependance on parents. Older kids: Who will pay for things, school? Could parents stop loving them too? May resist leaving home; may steal items in effort to make up for lost security.

Bargaining. Comes from hope parents will get back together. "If I am really good..." Feelings of optimism or sense of desperation.

Regression. May freeze where they are or go back to stage they remember as being secure. May feel incapable of working independently.

Hypermaturity. Child may assume adult tasks.

Somatic symptoms. More around Fridays, Mondays and vacation times. Head and stomach aches.

Difficulty concentrating. Restlessness, daydreaming, fantasizing. Can result in truancy.


1. Parent may be feeling anger toward ex-spouse and may use the child to punish him/her.

2. There may be competitiveness between ex-spouses which may be made worse by the loss of self-esteem that often accompanies divorce.

3. Parent may be seeking to validate the decision to divorce and will attempt to make the other partner appear to be in the wrong.

4. Parent may feel guilty about causing child pain and will use not wanting child to see other parent as way to cope with guilt.

5. Parent may feel ambivalence. Positive feelings about ex-spouse are unacceptable in face of decision to divorce and demanding loyalty from kids may be a way to protect from those feelings.

6. Parent may feel the need to exert control, and therefore communicates disapproval of ex-spouse to child.

7. Parent may be experiencing feelings of loss about the marriage, and consequently the child's wish to be with other patent may feel like another loss.


1. Tell the children about the divorce as soon as possible. Present the decision as a solution the parents have come to together after they tried all the other ways they could find. Whenever possible parents should talk to the children together about the divorce. These actions help to keep children from feeling responsible for the divorce.

2. Explain the changes (and, for older children, your expectations of them). Invite questions. Ask about and acknowledge the child's feelings. Tell children of all major developments.

3. Reassure your child that you still care and will support him/her. Remind her/him that you are there to talk out hurt and angry feelings and that s/he won't lose your love.

4. Limit any acting out on the part of the children and help him/her to redirect her/his feelings.

5. Help your child develop support systems outside the family. Encourage seeing friends and continuing doing activities s/he enjoys.

6. Reassure (especially younger) children that the divorce is not his/her fault.

7. Maintain routines. Be consistent with rules and activities.

8. Both parents need to be involved with child. They should agree on and support each other in childrearing policies. Use "we" when talking to the child so s/he isn't squeezed into choosing sides, Give your child, permission to maintain a relationship with the other parent.

9. Resolve and minimize conflicts. Don't blame the other parent. Agree to communicate only as parents. Don't let your child become a weapon in battles over money, visits, holidays, etc.

10. State clearly that the divorce is a final decision and that the children shouldn't waste their time trying to bring their parents back together.

11. Don't ask children to carry information between parents.

12. Be honest and truthful without burdening your child with details s/he can't understand. Allow children to make suggestions in matters that concern them, but they should not be made to feel responsible for making major decisions. Be careful not to rely on the child too heavily to meet your needs.

13. Be prepared to repeat the information and reassurances to the child at different times and in different ways.

Information provided by:
Howard Raab, Esq. located at

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