These days, people are taking marriage and divorce very lightly not realizing the consequences following those events, especially the impact on children. According to the Oxford dictionary, divorce means legal dissolution of a marriage. Malaysia has a high percentage of divorce rates. Based on statistics, the divorce percentage reaches up to 20% per year. In the United States, it is believed that 40% of all marriages end up in divorce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divorce). On the other hand, in the United Kingdom out of every 1000 marriage, 12 end up in divorce (http://www.journalism.co.uk). Globally, an average of 1.3 per 1000 people gets a divorce (www.nationmaster.com).
Ending a marriage is not a one-off event, it is a long process and it affects the entire family, including children in every aspect of their lives. Divorce has 6 phases (www.ces.ncsu.edu). The first phase is known as the emotional divorce, which involves negative feelings like anger and hatred taking over the nice feelings like love and affection. This is followed by legal divorce, which means that there is certification to declare that the duo is no longer legally married. Then comes the economic divorce, which requires the couple to divide their properties and other valuables accumulated during the marriage equally. The next phase is the co-parental divorce which handles issues regarding the custody of the child. Subsequently, the community divorce takes place affecting the social circle as a result of shifting out to a new community. Finally, the last phase is the psychic divorce, which involves adjustment to being single again. In the case, where there is a child involved in the divorce, the child has to cope through all the 6 phases.
Married couples get a divorce even more easily than getting married when they face conflicts. To add on to their problems, they have children too hastily without proper planning to set aside a specific period of living together and getting adjusted to each other before bringing a third person into the relationship.
Hence, there is a need to study the effects of divorce on children because those innocent beings will have to face the impact of their parent’s bad decision in marriage and end up being a victim of divorce. Divorce brings detrimental effects on children, as it will cause them to go through emotional and behavioral distress, create negative insights of their own future marriage, and reduce their standard of living and well-being as well.
As the effect of divorce, children will go through emotional and behavioral distress in order to adapt to the life after divorce. According to Allison and Furstenberg (1989), children of divorced parents experience more emotional and behavioral distress compared to children with intact families. Among the agony that the children will experience, is a decrease in their academic performance resulting in poor grades in school. This can be understood by analyzing the kind of situation that a child will have to cope with due to divorce. The child will go through various emotions such as anger towards themselves and the parent that initiated the divorce, fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss, sadness, rejection and loneliness. The difficulty in making new friends and adjusting to the new environment and teachers are some of the factors that will cause poorer grades compared to his performance in his previous school where everything was within his comfort zone.
A child especially preschoolers will also live with the feeling of guilt. This usually happens when a child thinks that he or she had caused the divorce to take place. The child would think that the fights and arguments that took place in the household is caused by them and that they have no power to control or stop it, which has led to divorce. This could be due to the child’s “limited cognitive abilities” causing them to feel puzzled by their parents divorce (http://cpancf.com). They also found that children do not have the ability to manage with all the adjustments that are required of them and these children carry the feeling of guilt that they caused the divorce and they have to patch their parents’ marriage (http://cpancf.com).
According to Amato and Keith (1991), divorce will also cause a child to miss out the role of a parent who usually is the role model, a shoulder to lean on, a helping-hand and a person who corrects them when they are wrong. In most cases, the father is the one that is usually not in the picture, thus will make a child feel unimportant, and deserted. As mentioned in (http://cpancf.com), boys and girls have different ways of expressing their emotions towards divorce. Boys generally tend to be more violent and rebellious while girls on the other hand, tend to be more active sexually at a very early age compared to those who come from intact families.
Other than that, children of divorce will have negative perception on their own future marriage because they will lose marital trust in a spouse, thus causing instability in their marriage. They will lose trust in their spouse because of their experience with their parents being dishonest in their marriage. Children of divorce generally will have no idea on what a sustainable marriage is all about. This is because they had not experienced or seen a good marriage in close up. Therefore, when small problems arise in their marriage they come to a dead end because they do not know how to overcome those problems to save a marriage, thus, leading their marriage to divorce too. They will fear obligation and closeness among the couple that a marriage expects of them. According to Franklin, Janoff-Bulman ; Roberts (1990), children of divorce parents have questionable trust on their spouse and they display negative perception on their own marriage. According to Wilson (2009), another effect of divorce on children is ‘sleeper effect’, which is the child carrying the thoughts of what the parents’ had experienced in their marriage and later this affects the child’s own marriage in the future.
In addition to the effects of divorce mentioned above, the standard of living and well-being of the child will be affected due to the lost of joint-income as the single parent now has to cope with the living expenses single-handedly. It is not an easy task especially with a child because raising a child can be very demanding. A child will go through deprivation in comforts received prior to the divorce as the child would have lived in a comfortable life out of both the parents’ income. In most cases of divorce, the mothers are usually the custodian of the child who generally has lesser earning capacity than the fathers. As mentioned in (www.ces.ncsu.edu), custody given to the opposite gender parent will cause more problems to the child. As in most cases the mothers are usually the custodian, the boys will face more issues as the father who is the same gender parent is not dominantly present in their life to guide and support them. As mentioned in (http://cpancf.com), children of divorced parents will have a decreased level in their living standards and the parent who has custody over the child may be psychologically or physically not able to meet the demands in raising a child. In addition to that, according to Amato and Keith (1991), a child whose parents have obtained a divorce are more likely inclined towards experiencing lower education achievement, obtain lesser salary, be more dependent on a welfare, obtain a child out of marriage vows and get a divorce in the future.
On the other hand, children whose parents divorce without obvious conflicts and problematic behavior are likely to lose confidence in marriage too as they will have doubts in the success of their marriage, as their parents who did not appear to have any conflict are still not able to sustain their marriage. At the same time, children whose parents divorce due to severe conflicts are equally affected as the impact of divorce such as living with a single parent and going through the trials and tribulations of being raised by a single parent exists under both circumstances. In most cases children certainly benefitted from the parents staying together. According to Wilson (2009), there is only a slight reduction in the negative effects of a parental divorce between having a “good divorce” and a “bad divorce” as the absence of a parent in their lives makes a lasting impact.
Under certain circumstances where there are constant arguments and abuse in troubled marriages, children will experience relief when their parents get divorced. They would feel much safer, happier and more secure especially in the event there is physical abuse in the family. The constant arguments will cause distress to children. Therefore, divorce is an answer to a more peaceful life. However, the relief is only short-term. The long-term effect of divorce on children could not be denied because of loss of parental touch from both mother and father as well as all the other effects of divorce. Children can be excluded from the parental conflict to minimize the effects of the marital problems by parents separating their role as spouse and parent. Findings from Wallenstein’s 10 years research (as cited in www.ces.ncsu.edu) on the effects of divorce on children suggest that the effects of divorce are long lasting, with children carrying memories of the break up with continuous feeling of bitterness and tend to experience withdrawal symptoms.
In conclusion, divorce certainly brings detrimental effect on children emotionally, psychologically and financially, and the effects are long-term. Couples with troubled marriages, especially those who already have children should try all means to make the relationship work. In circumstances where divorce could not be avoided, parents should consider keeping the child out of the conflicts that takes place between them. A positive adult role model should surround the child at all times if possible during the divorce and the period right after the divorce to provide the child with good vibrations and support (www.ces.ncsu.edu). The child should be constantly comforted that he or she is always loved despite the divorce in order to avoid the child from developing a feeling of guilt that they had caused the divorce. As such, parents should put their conflicts aside and spend time with the child by doing enjoyable activities together (http://foreverfamilies.byu.edu). The non-custodial parent’s support is essential. To help the child further during the process of divorce, its best for the child to meet a psychologist to discuss his or her anxieties, rage, and puzzlement due to the divorce as this will help ease the child’s emotional distress (www.ces.ncsu.edu).