The Divorce Quagmire

Relationships are often fragile. “I do” and “until death do us part” are vows kept less than 50% of the time. Divorce is occuring in our society at epidemic proportions and the effects on the family are lifelong. The effects of divorce on children have been well researched, scrutinized and investigated, editorialized and prophesized. Regardless of your judgments, attitudes, and perspectives toward divorce, the fact is that an increasingly large number of children are growing up with their parents living in different homes and the ramifications of the divorce are directly related to how the parents manage it. I believe the more amicable and less litigious a divorce is, the negative effects on the children are minimized. Certainly, there are situations where legal matters cannot be avoided because the “true well-being and best interests” of the child need to be served. Nonetheless, in my experience working with children the past 25 years, I can confidently report that too many parents do not follow the “amicable and less litigious” rule. Unfortunately, for the children, this is where the divorce quagmire begins and seemingly never ends.

It has also been my experience that the more prolonged the divorce is and the more protracted the legal matters are, the more difficult it is for children to move on in their own lives and development. Linda Bird Franke describes in her book “Growing Up Divorced”, how children react differently to the divorce depending upon where they are in their own psychological development. For example, the two year old who is normally struggling with trust issues and the teenager who grapples with identity and relationships issues, experience the divorce through these different filters. Therefore, if the divorce quagmire continues over time, it becomes increasingly more difficult for the child to manage and cope with the developmental tasks at hand.

A seven year old girl was recently describing to me her best friend’s parent’s divorce. She said, “Ashley is real lucky because even after her parents got divorced, they’re still best friends with one another. She’s so happy because her mom and dad still talk all the time.” Every child creates perceived realities, but the critical message for this girl was that her friend’s parents still love their daughter and will take care of her together. Co-parenting is crucial to the child’s sense of stability. It decisively tells the child that the parents can divorce one another but they continue as full parents to the child. Children of divorce often speak of matters in terms of being “equal”, “fair”, and “half and half”. In the child’s mind, being fair allows the child from having to choose one parent over the other. Co-parenting delivers the message of unity on parenting issues despite the divorce and minimizes the child manipulations and unnecessary alignments with one parent or the other.

Often, the divorce process takes on all the negative characteristics that were so prevalent during the marriage. The divorce quagmire is difficult to avoid. It is possible, however, to get on firm ground and be a good parent. The more amicable and less litigious the divorce is, it then becomes more possible to pave the way for a friendly relationship where parents can co-parent and address the developmental needs of their children.