Married or divorced, parents need to be a part of their children’s lives. When parents divorce, they must take on the singularly difficult task of parenting apart from each other yet together. Divorce upends the routines of everyone involved, but for children, particularly young ones old enough to understand at least part of what is involved, the dislocation of divorce affects them in all facets of their young lives -- not only at home, but in school and with friends, vanished in-laws and estranged grandparents.
In divorce, a fracture redefines a family that now must function in a very different way. The intact family manages, however imperfectly, to function as a unit; a family redefined by divorce marches to the beat of a different drum along a rougher road, up a steeper climb.
Many divorces are highly emotional and draw children into a vortex of conflict and anger, while they struggle to grasp an uncertain future.
Worse still, children very often blame themselves for the breakup and go to great lengths to recover the family they had. As described by one mental health expert, "Marriages may end but families do not. Divorce begins a period of unparalleled stress and psychological pain for all involved. Few children are relieved by the initial decision to separate because, no matter how bad the family situation is, it gives them vital support and protection."
Depending upon the custody and visitation routine, some degree of physical separation from at least one parent is inevitable, but both parents individually remain responsible for their offspring. One of the saddest phenomenon of divorce today happens when one parent -- often the noncustodial father -- drifts from the lives of his children, very often after he marries and starts a second family.
A divorce paradoxically increases the demands on both parents at a time when they themselves are very vulnerable, when life problems that may have been difficult but manageable for an intact family become seemingly intractable for a family reeling in the tsumani of a divorce.
Hard as it may seem to grasp, particularly at the onset, the phrase "a good divorce" is not an oxymoron. And the consequences of a bad one can be long lasting and damaging for everyone involved.
In her book Mom’s House, Dad’s House, Isolina Ricci describes the consequences when a spouse fails to obtain what she calls a "decent divorce." Not only will he still be angry at his former mate, "his children’s poor adjustment to the divorce was now a major worry [and] his second marriage was limping because of the problems with his first wife." Legally divorced and remarried, he remained "’divorced to’ his former partner, spending as much or more energy on the battle as he did before." In a way, his past captured his future.
Buffering the pain and suffering children endure when their parents part is one of the most important responsibilities of a divorcing couple. Parents must keep close watch on how their children cope and adjust to the divorce, not only on a day-to-day basis but also for the long-term.
Divorce fractures the bond between two spouses as husband and wife, but the bond between the two as parents remains intact. It is still the responsibility of both spouses to be parents. Marriages may end but families do not. The fracture and redefinition, without proper and continuing care, puts young children, who love both parents by the entirety, in an untenable position.
Children question their feelings, and a child must speak openly and freely with his or her parents and love them both equally and talk to both parents openly. Trust remains a key ingredient in establishing a healthy and emotionally sound child.
Any adult who comes from a divorced family understands what divorce can do to a child. If the separation occurs when a child is quite young, the memories generally fade as the child ages. The adolescent child remembers more than a toddler. But at any age, if parents work together, children of divorce can thrive and develop healthy, emotional attitudes.
This is truly what co-parenting is all about. Despite the fact that the change in the marriage has occurred, the responsibilities of the parent has basically gone unchanged. Co-parenting does not work for all families, but it does reduce the anxiety that a child suffers. No matter how harsh the relationship between former spouses, the relationship with their children will be a successful one when the two parents work together.
The purpose for this section is not to tell you what to legally do with your children. The purpose is to encourage separated parents to develop a constructive view of divorced parenting.
Common Questions and Answers
A. He or she remains the parent of the children.
Q. How can a parent best buffer the pain and suffering of children suffering divorce?
A. By reassuring the children that no matter what happens, the parent will always be there for them.
Q. Why is divorce so terribly painful, even when it ends a marriage gone terribly wrong?
A. Most people who made a good faith effort at making a marriage work liken a divorce to surviving the death of a loved one. A divorcing couple moves through stages very similar to those described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her landmark On Death and Dying, including denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Pain and suffering are natural and inescapable consequences of any divorce. Sadness and anger, fear and anxiety, sorrow and denial -- all are voices in a Greek chorus reiterated in a divorce and its aftermath. Even when divorce ends a bad marriage gone terribly wrong, a divorce does not make people happy. Happiness, such as it is, is something that happens after the bad marriage ends, not because the bad marriage ends. "Time," as Thomas Jefferson said in a letter written in connection with the death of his wife, "is the Great Physician." The same is true for divorce.
Children, who are the innocent third parties, are the living evidence of the hope brought to marriage. A divorcing couple are no longer spouses; they remain parents for life, and they are actively involved in the lives of their children.
Useful Online Tools
|How to Win Child Custody|
This is not your basic child custody book like most you will find in a bookstore. This book is for people who are in the middle of a custody dispute or feel as though there is a possibility of one in the future. This is a resource for those parents who are fighting for their rights and/or custody of their children.
Resources & Tools
THE DON’Ts – Good parenting through divorce has a dimension that is negatively defined. Good divorced parents do not speak badly or make accusations about the other parent in front of a child. They do not force a child to choose sides, or use a child as a messenger or go-between, or pump a child for information about the other parent, or argue or discuss child support issues in front of a child. In short, they do not use a child as a pawn to hurt the other parent.
The topic of divorce would seem to require no introduction. Divorce refers to the often messy and painful end of a marriage. For better or for worse, divorce is a very common event these days. Most everyone has been touched by it, either by going through it themselves as a spouse or a child, or knowing someone who has gone through it as a spouse or as a child. Despite widespread familiarity with the effects of divorce, the details of the divorce process are less well known. In this section, we discuss the important concepts and procedures involved in the divorce process with the sincere hope that educating people regarding this information will help minimize pain.
You can feel like the loneliest person in the world when you are contemplating divorce. It's therefore important to keep divorce in perspective so that it doesn't crush you:
The first thing to know about divorce is that it is common and nothing to be ashamed of. According to recent statistics, the rate of divorce in the United States (0.40%) is approximately half the rate of marriage (0.78%), suggesting that approximately 50% of all marriages - an enormous number! - are ending in divorce. While the actual meaning of these figures is arguable (given that it may be unfair to try to predict who will divorce in the future based on who is divorcing today), there is no disputing the fact that a great number of Americans have divorced and will divorce in the future. Divorce is so common it has become an industry unto itself with lawyers and matchmaking companies being just a few of the groups deriving economic benefit from the process. Under the social pressure of so many divorces, the stigma that used to be attached to divorce is largely gone. It continues to be painful to divorce, but with so much company, it is no longer a lonely isolated place.
The second thing to know about divorce is that it is an old and venerable institution. People have been getting divorces as long as people have been getting married. The ease with which a divorce can be obtained, the social stigma attached to divorce, and the amount of control religious and political powers have exercised over divorce have varied significantly over time and cultures. On the one hand, some accounts suggest that Islamic law at one point allowed a man to divorce his wife by simply stating the phrase "I divorce you" three times. On the other hand, other accounts suggest that the sixteenth century English king Henry XIII went so far as to cause the Anglican Church to be created (or at least become fully recognized) so as to gain permission for a divorce which the Catholic Church had denied him.
Less than 50 years ago, divorce was only widely available in the United States on a "fault" basis; it could only be obtained by demonstrating to the state's approval that one of the partners was acting badly enough to warrant release of the other partner. Acceptable grounds for fault divorce varied from state to state, but usually included abuse, adultery, and abandonment. The difficulty of gaining divorce, and a cultural climate that stigmatized divorce combined to keep divorce rates low. Since the 1960s most states have adopted "no-fault" divorce laws that allow couples to divorce without proving wrongdoing. Due in part to this reform and probably to other cultural changes, the divorce rate has risen, and being divorced is no longer looked down upon.
The third thing to know about divorce is that it isn't always awful. With the availability of no-fault divorce options, the process of divorce is no longer necessarily adversarial. Partners are now free to proceed with divorce as calmly and rationally as they can manage. Certainly divorce is frequently born out of marital conflict and proceeds as a knockdown, drag-out fight for possessions, child custody and pride. But modern divorce can also take place amicably, consciously and without a court battle. Marriage therapy can help conflicted partners to repair their marriage, or, if that is not possible, to separate on as positive terms as is possible. Arbitration is available to help partners successfully divide their possessions without recourse to the courts. The quality of the divorce any given couple will end up experiencing will be deeply influenced by the quality of relationships the partners can maintain with each other, and with professional helpers they work with during the separation process.
The fourth thing to know about divorce is that it is at once an emotional journey, and a legal process, and that it is best to keep these two aspects of divorce separate when that is possible. Marriage is a legal contract recognized by the state conferring rights, privileges and responsibilities. From a legal perspective, divorce is a process of disengaging partners from the legal marriage contract and making sure that those things the spouses are responsible for (including children and property) are properly accounted and cared for. The very rational and purposeful legal process of divorce contrasts mightily with the chaotic and emotional aspects of divorce which involve coming to grips with rather massive life changes as significant and shattering as any family death and which may involve significant grief, anger, sadness and pain. We'll be dealing with the emotional and legal aspects of divorce separately in this document.
The final thing to know up front about divorce is that divorce is not the end of the world. Divorce is a crisis involving a very real end, but it is also a very real new beginning. Divorce is the end of a chapter of life, but not the end of life itself (even though it may feel that way). In the midst of the divorce crisis are seeds of opportunities for remaking life into something again enjoyable new and creatively good. It is important to keep this hopeful and true message in mind as the process unfolds.