It is a question we get asked all the time at Martens Legal. The short answer – we wish we had one.
The impact of divorce on children has been the subject of research for several decades; however, the answer is still undecided.
In our opinion this is because it will depend on the child, the family dynamic and how parents react following separation.
SO, WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
Divorce involving children is unavoidable. In 2015 there were almost 50,000 divorces in Australia. Of those divorces, 47.5% involved children.1
One opinion is that the worst thing parents can do is to stay together for the sake of the children. A recent survey by ComRes found that 82% of people who had experienced a family breakup would still prefer their parents to separate if they were unhappy.2
Much of the research on this issue has however focused on the impact of divorce according to the different ages of children. Some examples are below3:
Infants and toddlers (0–2 years):
- have limited ability to understand what is happening;
- require regular, consistent and predictable contact with each parent; and
- may feel distressed if a parent is absent.
Pre-schoolers (3–4 years):
- remain dependent on parents and particularly, the bond with their primary parent;
- can find it hard to understand what is happening and why; and
- can cope with lengthier separations from their parents.
Young school-age children (5–8 years):
- more advanced in their thinking;
- likely to become caught in loyalty binds between their parents; and
- are likely to believe that an absent parent has rejected or stopped loving them.
Older school-age children (9–12 years):
- are more able to understand the reasons for the separation;
- may see one parent as the ‘good guy’ and the other parent as the ‘bad guy’; and
- have a greater ability to talk about their feelings, concerns and how they are coping.
Adolescents (13 and over):
- have a sense of independence and therefore feel they can control and manipulate situations;
- can see that there are two sides to the story, which may mean they refuse to take sides; and
- may have behavioural issues because of inconsistent parenting between households.
HOW TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM THE IMPACT?
There is no question that separation is a hugely emotional and challenging time for parents as well as children; particularly if parents end on bad terms.
Parents must try to put their children’s needs first, and as soon as possible decide on important issues for their children relating to:
- Decisions such as schooling, health and/or religion;
- Living arrangements;
- School holidays;
- Overseas travel; and
- Special occasions such as Birthdays, Easter or Christmas.
Early and informed decisions about these issues will help to create a healthy and cooperative parenting environment.
We understand that for many parents going through a separation, it can be an extremely difficult and unsettling time. At Martens Legal that is why we guide parents through the above issues in an informed and considered manner.
WOULD YOU LIKE FURTHER INFORMATION?
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015) Marriages and Divorces Australia 2015. Available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/mf/3310.0
- ComRes (2015) Family Dispute Resolution Week 2015. Available at: http://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Resolution_-Family-Dispute-Resolution-Week-2015.pdf
- Burke, S. McIntosh, J. and Gridley, H. (2009) Parenting after separation – A Literature Review prepared for The Australian Psychological Society. Available at: https://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/Parenting_separation_LitReview.pdf
The information contained on this site is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of such information. Appropriate professional advice should be sought based upon your particular circumstances.