Divorce and Its Impact on the Family

IntroductionA significant and often heated debate has been in progress for years regarding the effect of divorce on the family, and more specifically, on children of different ages. On the one side, there are writers, theorists and scholars who argue that divorce does not affect the children over the long term and on the other side are those who argue that divorce has a negative effect on the children for all their lives. It is indeed impossible to make a clear and definitive conclusion based on the research studies that have been conducted over the years. Each investigator argues strongly for their own conclusions, providing statistical evidence to support those conclusions.

Does divorce have a negative impact on children, regardless of age when the divorce occurs? Does divorce have more impact on specific age ranges of children? If divorce has a negative impact on children, then, how long does that impact last? Do adult children of divorced parents find it easier to blame all their failures and pitfalls on their parents’ divorce instead of taking responsibility for their own actions through the years?

These are the only some of the questions that underlie the problem: What impact does divorce have on the children. Very few definitions are needed regarding this investigation: •Children means the children of the parents who get divorced, regardless of age. Thus, “children” refers to adolescents as well as younger children. When a specific age range is meant, that will be clarified in the text. •Divorce means that the couple has gone through the legal process of divorce and are, thus, no longer legally married.

•Absent father refers to those fathers who do not keep in contact with their children subsequent to a divorce. Also, the absent father does not contribute to the children’s support. •Custodial parent refers to the parent who has legal primary custody of the children. First a brief overview of what marriage and divorce was throughout history, and what would happen to those children after the divorce was finalized Marriage and Divorce in History

The roots of marriage can be traced back to time of the Romans and Greeks. For the Greeks and Romans marriage wasn’t really something of a choice. It was more of a family obligation and a way to help the family gain higher status. “Marriage in Roman times was often not at all romantic. Rather, it was an agreement between families.

Men would usually marry in their mid-twenties, while women married while they were still in their early teens. As they reached these ages, their parents would consult with friends to find suitable partners that could improve the family’s wealth or class.”(PBS) Women really didn’t have a choice in who they married, they were chosen by their fathers. And even for the men, love wasn’t taken into account because it was up to the parents who they married. The actual marriage in Roman times was very simple. The couple would just have to declare their desire to live with each other in front of both families.

Divorce in this time was just as easy as marriage. “Just as marriage was only a declaration of intent to live together, divorce was just a declaration of a couple’s intent not to live together. All that the law required was that they declare their wish to divorce before seven witnesses.” (PBS) Divorce was a very common thing for the Romans. The only condition was the woman would get her dowry back, and she would move back in with her father. If the wife was divorced because of adultery only half of her dowry was given back.

The laws did not mention anything about husbands as they could not be divorced because of an adulterous they have committed. It is assumed that children were left with the father as men were the law in Roman times. Not much is known on what happened to the children after a divorce, whether they are allowed to see their mother or not, if the mothers were allowed to keep the children, or if the child’s best interests were ever a factor for who got to keep them after the divorce.

Marriage in African countries was relatively similar to the Greeks and Romans, but with a few changes. Marriage signified a union between two families. “The death of a husband did not terminate the union of families. Upon a husband’s death a relative would assume his role.” (Simon and Altstein) Marriage was more of a binding contract than anything else.

The woman being married didn’t really matter in the long run either as if she died or was unable to bare children, a younger sister would take over her role as the wife “But the wife wasn’t fully excepted until she gave birth to her first child.” (Simon and Altstein) The actual marriage didn’t really require that much, just consent from both parties and their guardians, as well as some form of payment from the husband’s family to the wife’s. This would most likely be cattle. There wasn’t really any ceremony like today; it was more of a series of rituals.

Divorce was a simple thing for Africans. Grounds for divorce were; adultery, desertion, insanity for at least seven years, and being imprisoned for more than five years. The children would normally have been given to the father, but in more recent times the child would go with whichever parent was more able to take care of them. If a child was old enough to make up their own mind the court would consider who they wished to live with, but that didn’t always mean the child’s pick would be the one he/she would be given to.

In the 1500’s after the Reformation, a change in how marriages and divorces were performed occurred. The peasants were allowed to marry whomever they choose, but the nobles still kept with the arranged marriages to keep their line pure and to improve their power, this would go for royalty as well. Marriage then became a public affair, and it was considered part of the earthly kingdom instead of the heavenly kingdom. This meant that vows would be made in public before the church consummated the marriage. Prior to this the Church was in charge of marriage and divorce but they lost that power with the coming of the Reformation. “Marital disputes would be tried before a civil court, not a Church court. The Church did not have legal authority over marriage.”(Simon and Altstein) Also laws that prohibited the marriage of clerics, monks, and nuns were also rejected. Divorces were allowed as long as there was just cause.

Cause included impotence, sexual incompatibility, abuse and acts of incest.” (Simon and Altstein) The average length of a marriage was only fifteen years at the time, but this was caused more by death, than by divorce. In more recent times a decision was made by the courts of the United Kingdom that they will not longer decide which parent the child should custody of. The parents were to make the decision together and stick with it, only if they can not agree will the court make one, this decision can not be argued. In the United States of America, marriage is “the legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, and a spouse is a husband or wife of the opposite sex.”

(Simon and Altstein) Only men and women are allowed to be married to each other, in some states though same-sex civil unions are allowed. The church is where the marriage is held but the state must approve the marriage for it to be final. The laws of marriage vary from state to state. In the United States of America divorce rates are very close or over fifty percent. Divorce varies on the state as well but some form is permitted by every state. “Thirty-four states have adopted no-fault divorce in addition to traditional grounds for divorce.” (Simon and Altstein) As for the children, their wishes are considered by all but four states. The effects in which those children concur will be explained later. Literature Review

The literature regarding the impact of divorce on children is voluminous. It is also highly contradictory and heated in terms of debate. Anyone investigating this topic can find research studies to support their own opinions no matter what that opinion is.

We begin by offering some data regarding divorce. In the United States, one out of every two marriages will end in divorce (Marano, 2000). Despite this devastating statistic, 90 percent of Americans will marry (Marano, 2000). Of those individuals who divorce their first spouse, 75 percent will remarry, even though their first marriage ended (Marano, 2000). Given that so many divorced individuals simply live with other persons or combine the homes with others without the sanction of legal marriage, the figure for “remarriages” escalates significantly when these people are included (Marano, 2000). Out of all second marriages, 60 percent end in divorce (Marano, 2000).

It is not just in the U.S. that a large proportion of marriages fail. The BBC reported that one in seven marriages (16.4 percent) end in divorce in the United Kingdom (2000). The divorce rate differs dramatically by location in the UK, for example, in Biggleswade, only 6 percent of marriages end in divorce but in Skelmersdale in Lancashire, 32.4 percent of marriages end in divorce (BBC, 2000).

The divorce rates have risen in most European countries, as well (Björnberg, nd). The highest rates are found in Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and the United Kingdom (Björnberg, nd).  In the year 2000, there were 45,500 divorces, a new high (Victorian State Conference of Teams, 2001). Anyone who has kept up with public mass media also knows that the divorce rate in China has escalated to as much as 25 percent in recent years. It has become such an issue that the government began debating about a new law that would make adultery a crime and that would put further restrictions on divorce in that country.

Most of the research regarding the impact of divorce on children has been conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom. Two of the primary and most discussed studies contradict each other, which has come to be known as the “Hetherington-Wallerstein debate–a battle of superstars” (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). Hetherington argues that “75% to 80% of children of divorce function well, with little long-term harm to their adult lives” and Wallerstein argues that “the damaging effects of divorce on children are cumulative, and the major impact comes in adulthood” (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). Wallerstein first published her findings in a book in 1971; this was then updated in another book entitled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study in 2000 (Corliss, 2002). In the most recent book, Wallerstein concluded that divorce leads to depression, juvenile delinquency, poor grades, among other things and that the divorce affects people well into adulthood (Corliss, 2002).

Hetherington published her findings in a co-authored book (with John Kelly) entitled For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (Corliss, 2002). In this book, Hetherington and Kelly argue “that 75% to 80% of children of divorce are functioning well, with little long-term damage” (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). Hetherington and Kelly tracked nearly 1,400 families and more than 2,500 children, some for three decades and concluded:

Within two years of their parents’ divorce, the vast majority of children are beginning to function reasonably well again (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). 70 percent of divorced parents are living happier lives than they did before divorce (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). Some women and girls turned out to be more competent, able people than if they had stayed in unhappy family situations (Corliss, 2002, p. 40). In Hetherington’s study, 25 percent of the children from divorced families had serious emotional, psychological or social problems (Corliss, 2002). This compares to 10 percent of children from families that remain intact (Corliss, 2002). Still, it is a much smaller proportion than many other studies, including Wallerstein’s.

Cudina and Obradovic summarized a great deal of the research, most of which concludes that children from divorced families are “more aggressive and depressive”; “more prone to anxiety”; and “of a generally poorer adjustment than children living in intact families” (2001, p. 247). The instability of the marriage also affects boys and girls differently, for instance, “boys are more often found to be more vulnerable” and “more aggressive and displayed more behavioural problems than girls” (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001, p. 247). It should be pointed out, however, that the gender differences found have not been consistent.

Another finding is that the reaction of children seem to differ according to age when the divorce occurs (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). For instance, the research suggests that “emotional response being more intense for children younger than 6, and for those in early adolescence at the time of parental divorce” (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001, p. 247).

There is also a substantial amount of research that concludes that “prolonged parental marital distress could be even more damaging to the child’s emotional and social development than parental divorce” (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001, p. 247). Fighting, conflict, violence all combine to make the child feel insecure and unstable as well as fearful (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001).

Mitigating factors that affect the impact of divorce on children have been identified as the availability of the noncustodial parent, the relationship between the parents after the divorce, the quality of the parent-child relationships with both parents, and the degree of economic hardship and stress the child experiences after the divorce (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001).

Because the overwhelming majority of research has been conduced in English-speaking countries, Cudina and Obradovic studied the impact of divorce on children in Croatia, a society that is very different in many ways from the United States and other English-speaking nations (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). Croatia is smaller, has a relatively low GNP and in most ways can be considered a developing nation (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001).

The divorce rate in Croatia has increased over the last 30 years, rising from 13.5 percent in 1962 to 17.4 percent in 1996 (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). The Croatian family reflects a myriad of both traditional and modern values (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). Nonetheless, there is still a stigma attached to divorced individuals in Croatia (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001).

Cudina and Obradovic found that Croatian children respond in much the same way as children in other countries – children of divorced parents are more emotionally unstable and more depressive than children from intact families (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). The study did not support the premise that children suffer equally negative effects from living in a home where the parents are in conflict as do the children from divorced parents (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001).

They study also confirmed that the degree of impact is related to age – younger children showed more emotional distress than did older children (Cudina and Obradovic, 2001). Hyatt reported that the adjustment of the children is primarily dependent on the parents and how they behave after the divorce (1999). Hyatt was reporting a study conducted at Iowa State University and reported in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Simons, who led the research investigation team, said that “Even though divorce more than doubles the risk for emotional and behavioral problems in both boys and girls, the good news is that the vast majority of children from divorced families do just fine. . . . What is essential for kids is that they be parented well.

If mom and dad continue to persevere in their parenting, are warm and supportive, monitor the kids and are consistent in discipline, the risk for conduct problems is no greater than in two-parent families. This is a more optimistic scenario than is often assert” (Hyatt, 1999). This was also a longitudinal study that involves 600 families and is ongoing (Hyatt, 1999).

Theoretical FoundationsAttachment theory would seem to be the most appropriate theory to discuss in terms of the effects of divorce on children. Beginning in infancy, the child develops an attachment to the parent through interactions with the parent. According to Bowlby, an interruption or disruption of the attachment relationship can result in psychopathology (Garelli, 1997).

Research indicates that the formation of attachments in infancy and childhood contribute to healthy adulthood (Galston, 1996; Fields, 1996). Research also indicates that when the attachment is disrupted, the child may well suffer both emotional and physical traumas affecting their ability to function today and in their future life (Galston, 1996; Fields, 1996). Divorce is an event that disrupts attachments.

Attachment theory asserts that children do develop attachment feelings to people, places and objects. Research concludes that attachments are essential for good mental health. One study in Israel concluded that “Attachment between parent and child plays a crucial role in the healthy development of the child. Accordingly disturbances in parental bonding will be linked with the development of mental disorders later in life” (Canetti et al, 1997, p. 381). Note that the need for attachment is for all children. Divorce does not necessarily mean that the child’s attachment to the noncustodial parent would be eliminated by the divorce.

Discussion, Summary and Conclusions As can be seen from the few research studies presented, there is a heated debate and strong controversy regarding the effects of divorce on the family. There is equally strong evidence to support either side of the debate. That leaves the reader with a strong question as to how much divorce actually does affect the future development and adult life of the divorced family.

There is no perfect study, which means that every study has its limitations. More studies suggest that children face significant effects when their parents divorce. It does seem, however, that the impact of a divorce on a child would be dependent upon the circumstances and the subsequent behaviors of the parents involved. More studies in recent years are pointing to this premise. If the parents both continue parenting and they parent well, a far smaller proportion of children will experience significant negative effects than what has been said in the past. If the parents continue their fighting and place the child in the middle of that fighting, then, common sense would tell us that the child will have any number of psychological and emotional problems as a result.

It is important to note the studies that have compared children of divorced parents to children of parents who stayed married but whose relationship was so unstable. Certainly, living with verbal conflict and loud fighting between the parents has a devastating effect on the child. Living with parents where spousal abuse is prevalent would have tragic effects on the child, worse effects than would a divorce.

Even the researchers who conclude that a small percentage of children experience serious problems after a divorce, clearly state that they are no promoting divorce and that children will develop more securely and more positively if the family is kept intact – except when violence and abuse is present. The conclusions, in other words, do not support divorce; they are simply saying the outlook for these children is not as bleak as has been publicized.

There is another issue that one must also look at. These kinds of studies rely a great deal on interviews with the survivors of divorce. It is very convenient for many of these adults or older adolescents to blame all the problems in their lives on their parents’ divorce. Scapegoating is very prevalent in today’s society – people simply do not want to takeresponsibility for their own lives.

The conclusion of this paper must be that: 1.Divorce will have an effect on children – to think otherwise is naïve. 2.Children of divorced families do not automatically develop serious emotional and psychological problems. 3.The full effect of divorce on children will depend on how the parents behave after the divorce, the degree of attachment that was in existence prior to the divorce and the child’s own mental state/stability at the time of the divorce.

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