The Effects of Divorce on Children and Adult Well-Being


Divorce, in terms of its effects in the psychological and social developmental process of children and now-adolescence, is widely discussed in our society. So the significant numbers of short and long-term researches have been done to find the scope of its effects. Still many research studies are underway. However, the findings of the research studies are not largely answering the unresolved questions whether divorce can have, in fact, such a higher level of negative effects, as previous studies show in children’s developmental processes. In the verge of rapid growth of divorce rate in every society and the family values being undercut, the research studies can be more startling revelation how our social structure is also evolving from intact family to blended family or single parenting family.

In this paper, I am going to examine the databases that are found in the Psychological journals and lay out the findings as not the definite results but explore potential negative effects and risk factors of divorce in children. According to Webster’s 1931 dictionary, divorce means “a legal dissolution of the marriage contract”. At the same time, divorce, in the verb form, means “disunite, disassociation, disjoint, or separation.” Divorce, by definition, is a separation or disassociation or break apart of a family. When a family as a unit is ruptured, who then can deny the negative effects it causes? Cracking the beam of the building block must have by far severe or lesser consequences.

Most of the researches that I found so far go with the same line that children of divorce parents struggle more to adjust their lives than children from intact family. Their psychological well-being is also questioned. During divorce, the entire family members go through this painful process. The process itself begins with conflict and physical separation. Accordingly, family environment becomes cold and the entire ordeal becomes a nightmare for children. As university professors duo Amato and Sobolewski explain:

Divorce is usually followed by a series of stressful circumstances for children, including reduced contact with non-custodian parents (usually fathers), increased tension between children and custodial parents (usually mothers), continuing rancor between parents, a decline in standard of living, and an increase in residential mobility – often involving moving to neighborhoods with fewer community resources.”[1]

If such is the case of any children of divorced parents, then the psychological well-being and healthy growth of them cannot be expected to turn in a positive way.

Due to underlying negative effects and their impact on children’s psychological well-being, those children are more predictably vulnerable in almost all areas of life. The empirical findings of Amato also suggest that children from broken houses are more likely to experience psychological difficulties which will have impact even in the stage of adulthood.[2] This suggests that the negative effects are more than inevitable to affect them for many years that last into adulthood.

Judith S. Wallerstein and J. Lewis also come to the conclusion after 25 years of longitudinal study that the now-adult turned children of divorced parents had hard time coping with the past events of their parents’ divorce. In their own words, “the now-adult children still recalled the shock, unhappiness, loneliness, bewilderment, and anger, and that divorce is not an acute stressor from which children recover, but rather is “a life-transforming experience.”[3] These children’s lives are changed unexpectedly and drastically, which the authors said as “a life-transforming experience” is because of the ordeal they go through and the way these children have to deal with and are forced to adjust within the circumstances after their parents’ divorce.

All these negative effects come as a complete baggage that play significant role in the children’s mental and social development. The effects of divorce might not be as adverse as some people have thought, yet divorce is very indisputably a risk that can have a more adverse effect than someone has ever thought of. There will be no spheres of their lives that are untouched and unscathed by the divorce of their parents. They become a victim of two antagonistic parents. Consequently, they become the recipients of whole host of problems, namely: psychological, behavioral, academicals, relational, and sexual.

The research studies are undoubtedly consistent in their findings that children of divorced parents are more prone to have psychological setbacks. They report that these children display depressive symptoms, are overly anxiousness about their future and have very low self-esteem.[4] It is apparent that when children of young age have to go through parental divorce, they are also often times exposed to unwelcomed conflicts and stresses. These factors serve as a negative catalyst in their cognitive development and psychological well-being.

Apart from that, divorce also has adverse effect on socioeconomic status. When a couple is divorced, women are most likely to lose the privileges they had before. In most cases, children live with their mothers. Hyunjoon Park’s demographical research also claims that “the vulnerable conditions of children living with a single parent, associated with the low level of public support, are expected to be particularly severe among those with a single mother.”[5] Furthermore, studies suggest that one’s psychological well-being has a close connection with socioeconomic status. Amato and Sobolewski exclaim that socioeconomic status is associated with children’s psychological well-being in adulthood.[6] And this socioeconomic status has whole lot of conditional relationship with psychological well-being as well as with academic.

The research studies have shown how parental divorce affects women more than men. Women are more vulnerable and equally more likely to experience depression. “Greater levels of depression have been found to continue into adulthood with both men and women reporting comparatively lower level of psychological well-being.”[7] Although the research studies have not explained explicitly what causes girls to be more vulnerable than boys, the reasons are not unknowable. Supposedly, women experience more depression than men due to their physiological response to stress, as they produce more stress hormones than men.

Stress coping mechanisms might vary in each individual; however, the effects of parental divorce do affect them saliently in their academics too. Their academic performances are lower than children from intact families.[8] It becomes more obvious now how those children’s educational attainment will be disadvantaged when they continue to have greater level of depression that continues into adulthood. In addition, Wolfinger, Kowaleski-Jones, and Smith affirm how children of divorce or marital discord fail to perform impressively in school:

Our primary finding is straightforward: parental divorce affects siblings similarly. Moreover, the effects of parental divorce are uniformly negative. People from divorced families complete fewer years of school and are most likely to dissolve their own marriage than are people from intact family.[9]

Again, this can be attributed to socioeconomic status and stress that comes through role strain and psychological adjustment.

Also, children of parental divorce have behavioral problem. As Ulla Palosaari and Hillevi Aro quote Frost and Pakiz (1990) findings in their follow-up study those children from dysfunctional families have conduct problem like antisocial behaviors including getting involved in “heavy alcohol consumption and truancy, and criminality among adolescent boys.”[10] Likewise, adolescent girls are found with feeling of anger and aggressive behavior.[11] Their delinquent behaviors elevate out of frustration, feelings of loneliness, and psychological pressure.

As a result, they are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors. According to Portnoy, girls from divorced homes are more likely to have sexual relationship when they are in high school. In the case of adolescence boys, there is a higher chance of them getting involved in sexual relationship if they are living with a single mother. And they have more sexual partners than adolescents from intact families.[12] The main reasons why these adolescents of parental divorce engage in sexual relationship earlier than their counterpart can be traced back to the family environment they are living in. The possible reasons are as follows: (i) they find themselves detached from one of their parents, (ii) they yearn for intimate relationship and emotional support from their parents, but that remain unfulfilled, (iii) and custody battle during divorce and obligation to pay child support often put fathers into a distant relationship.

The underlying issues here reveal how destructive parental divorce can be in their offspring’s’ lives later in their adolescence and adulthood. “Adults who recall a high level of conflict between parents while growing up tend to report a disproportionately large number of psychological and marital problems in their own lives.”[13] However, it does not necessarily mean that every individual from divorced parents end up in a divorce. Some individuals learn from their parents mistakes. Yet, they are more likely to have difficulty raising kids than in comparison to ones from intact families.

Elizabeth Marquardt found out during her research that there is connection between children of divorce and belief in God. They are not of religious nature or less religious. Some turn to be more religious because of love, care, and warmth they feel being a part of religious community or they are surrounded by people of faith who really care about them.[14] The reason why most of them lose their faith in God is very understandable. Since they suffer very much from the beginning of their parents’ divorce process, they find no consolation in their suffering from God. Their feelings of loneliness, depressive mood and various other emotional factors feed their ego to come to the conclusion that God does not exist or He is not interested in his life.

Therefore, the subject of divorce cannot be treated lightly, as we see how pervasive it can be in one’s life. It not only affects two lives – a couple – but also their offspring’s’ cognitive development and psychological well-being. There are few out there who can cope with stress and maintain high esteem in spite of the situation they have dealt with. As a result, many children of divorce suffer for many years, even beyond their adolescence. Therefore, parents of the divorced children should try to maintain good relationship with their former spouse and their children. Holistic thinking is necessary from both parents to promote the well-being of their children.

Bibliographies/References:

Nicholas H Wolfinger, Lori Kowaleski-Jones, and Ken R Smith. “Double Impact: What Sibling Data Can Tell Us about the Long-Term Negative Effects of Parental Divorce*. ” Social Biology 50.1/2 (2003): 58-76. ProQuest Psychology Journals, ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2010.

Palosaari, Ulla, and Aro, Hillevi. “Effect of timing of parental divorce on the vulnerability of children to depression in young adulthood. ” Adolescence 29.115 (1994): 681-690. ProQuest Psychology Journals, ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2010.

Park,H..“Effects of single parenthood on educational aspiration and student disengagement in Korea.”Demographic Research 18.(2008):377-408. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2010.

Paul R Amato, and Juliana M Sobolewski. “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being. “ American Sociological Review 66.6 (2001): 900-921. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Portnoy,S..“The Psychology of Divorce: A Lawyer’s Primer, Part 2: The Effects of Divorce on Children. “American Journal of Family Law 21.4 (2008): 126-134. Research Library, ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2010.

Susan E Payne. “Between two worlds: The inner lives of children of divorce. “Rev. of: Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, . Christian Education Journal 4.1(2007):150-153. ProQuest Religion, ProQuest. Web. 30 Sep. 2010.

Footnotes:

[1] Paul R Amato and Juliana M Sobolewski, “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological Well-being”, American Sociological Review; Dec 2001; 66, 6; Research Library, pg. 902.

[2] Sandford M. Portnoy, “The Psychology of Divorce: A Lawyer’s Primer, part 2: The Effects of Divorce on Children,” American Journal of Family Law: Winter 2008; 21, 4: Research Library, p. 127.

[3] Ibid. 126.

[4] Ulla Palossari and Hillevi Aro, Effect of Timing of Parental Divorce on the Vulnerability of Children to Depression in Young Adulthood: Adolescence; Fall 1994; 29, 115; Research Library, p. 682.

[5] Hyunjoon Park, Effect of Single Parenthood on Educational Aspiration and Student Disengagement in Korea, Demgraphic Research – Vol. 18, Article 13; Research Article, p. 383.

[6] Paul R Amato and Juliana M Sobolewski, “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological Well-being”, American Sociological Review; Dec 2001; 66, 6; Research Library, pg. 903.

[7] Sandford M. Portnoy, “The Psychology of Divorce: A Lawyer’s Primer, part 2: The Effects of Divorce on Children,” American Journal of Family Law: Winter 2008; 21, 4: Research Library, p. 127.

[8] Ibid, 128.

[9] Nicholas H Wolfinger; Lori Kowaleski-Jones; Ken R Smith, Double Impact: What Sibling Data Can Tell Us about the Long-Term Negative Effects of Parental Divorce, Social Biology; Spring 2003; 50, ½; Research Library, p. 73.

[10] Ulla Palosaari and Hillevi Aro, “Effect of Timing of Parental Divorce on the Vulnerablity of children to Depression in Young Adulthood”: Adolescence; Fall 1994; 29, 115; Research Library, p. 682.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sandford M. Portnoy, “The Psychology of Divorce: A Lawyer’s Primer, part 2: The Effects of Divorce on Children,” American Journal of Family Law: Winter 2008; 21, 4: Research Library, p. 128.

[13] Paul R Amato and Juliana M Sobolewski, “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological Well-being”, American Sociological Review; Dec 2001; 66, 6; Research Library, pg. 901.

[14] Susan E Payne, “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce:” Christian Education Journal; Spring 2007; 4,1; ProQuest Religion, p. 152.

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