If you are a parent contemplating divorce, you are no doubt aware of the conflicting information out there regarding the impact of divorce on children. For every study showing the negative impact of divorce on children, there is conflicting data showing the benefits. How can you tell what impact divorce would have on your children and, more importantly, what steps can you take to ensure the best outcome possible for them?
It is widely accepted that for families that are already high-conflict, divorce is often in the best interests of the children. In households where there is abuse, addiction, and/or chaos, there is usually nowhere to go but up. In these homes, it is the conflict and not the divorce itself that causes problems for children, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, academic problems, and acting out.
But what about the impact of divorce in low-conflict families, which actually make up the majority of households? In marriages that simply have the “blahs,” children are likely not attuned to any trouble between their parents. They are not affected by the unhappy marriage itself; they are affected by their parents’ inability to be good parents. Can divorce have a positive impact on children in these cases?
The answer is that for both high- and low-conflict families, there are options available to facilitate the process and lessen the negative impact on children. Studies show that a mediated divorce has a far more positive impact on children than a litigated divorce. In addition to the fact that a mediated divorce is far less expensive than a litigated divorce, a mediated divorce historically results in more positive outcomes for children.
There is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate “that the mediation produces more satisfaction with the divorce process, more satisfaction with the divorce outcome, a better post-divorce relationship with the spouse, and more of a sense that children’s needs are being met.” (Lori Shaw, “Divorce Mediation Outcome Results”, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Summer, 2010, Volume 27, No 4, pgs 447-467.)”
Of course, an harmonious divorce is always preferable to a bitter divorce, but in any case divorce takes its toll on children. In situations where the divorce is harmonious, however, the children adjust to their post-divorce lives better and more quickly.
Studies show that the first two years of a divorce are the biggest adjustment period for families. After the shock wears off, however, the divorce can serve as a springboard to healthy, meaningful lives for the children involved.
What are the 6 ways a well-done divorce can have a positive impact on children?
1. Resilience and Flexibility
If the divorce is handled well, the children will learn resilience and flexibility, traits that will serve them well in uncertain times.
2. New Opportunities and People
If the one or both parents enter a new relationship, the resultant blended family can expose children to different dynamics and ways of relating to others in a family setting.
3. Maturity and Independence
Boys and girls gain maturity and independence more rapidly, particularly if they are expected to shoulder more household responsibility. They also benefit from an earlier exposure to the ups and downs of life. This often leads to an acceptance that ups and downs are a part of life and contributes to the flexibility and resiliency noted above.
4. More Quality Time
Their parents may spend more quality time with them, not only because the time they have together is more precious, but also because the focus has been taken off parental conflict.
5. Money Skills
Children of divorce may learn to be more responsible with money due to reduced circumstances post-divorce. These circumstances often make them more aware of and involved in financial and budgetary considerations.
6. Happier Parents = Happier Children
If the marriage is making a parent miserable, they will probably be a better role model post-divorce. Many parents “come into their own” post-divorce, and go on to lead happier, more productive lives once the burden of living in an unhappy marriage is lifted. Children who witness this sort of shift often have more positive feelings about the future and their own lives as adults.
In conclusion, divorce is rarely the optimal choice for children, particularly those in low-conflict families. When managed correctly, however, with the best interests of the children at the forefront, the negative impact of divorce can be turned into a positive outcome for children. Mediation can play a large part in making sure the positives outweigh the negatives for children of divorce.
Carla Tourin is a mediator and Minnesota-licensed attorney. Additionally, she serves as a volunteer mediator for the Conflict Resolution Center of Minneapolis and works on divorce and consumer protection cases for the Volunteer Lawyers Network of Minneapolis. In addition, she works on lobbying efforts on behalf of the Civil Society of Minneapolis, which assists human trafficking victims.
David D. Stein has been an attorney for 20 years and the founder of Liaise® Divorce Solutions. He is a trained best divorce mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.