How many of us have heard of a couple staying together “for the kids.” People hear horror stories of the effect of divorce on kids and fear for children is often one of the first worries when one spouse announces that he or she wants a divorce. I have good news and bad (or good, depending on your viewpoint) news on this point.
First, the good news. Many studies have concluded that while divorce is very hard and painful for children, long term harm is not inevitable. In fact, children of divorced parents can do very well long term and bounce back from the pain of their parent’s divorce.
The bad (or good news). Research also documents repeatedly that it is not the divorce itself that can create negative outcomes for kids. It is the amount of chronic conflict between the parents that the children are exposed to that create risks for the long-term wellbeing of kids. The more conflict your kids are exposed to, the more they will suffer in the short and long term.
So, the most protective thing you can do for your children is minimize the conflict between you and your estranged or separated spouse. An adversarial divorce process almost always escalates the conflict, particularly when family or friends stoke the flames. Further, in many places court time is limited with long waits for court dates that drag out the process and keep both parties in limbo and trying to co-parent without clear agreements as to discipline, communication, and decision-making. All of this makes conflict worse instead of better.
Think of it like this:
|Happiest Kids with Best Statistical Life Outcomes in the Short and Long Term||Children of happily married/partnered, low conflict families|
|Next Best||Children of divorced/separated parents where there is low conflict|
|Next Worse||Children of high conflict parents who are married or living together|
|Most unhappy kids in short and long term with most risk for negative outcomes||Children of high conflict divorce|
I am willing to bet that most parents going through separation and divorce don’t want their kids to be the most unhappy and the most at risk for negative consequences. So, it is vitally important that you manage the divorce with strategies to reduce conflict. Mediation can do that by getting you to a result expeditiously with far less expense. Clearly worded parenting plans that people can use to know exactly how to handle discipline, living arrangements, communication, etc can help reduce conflict. And, for two involved parents, you are going to have to work at coming to agreements for the welfare of your children for years to come, so why not start with a mediator who can help you avoid prior patterns of conflict and help you create plans that put the welfare of your children first?
Similarly, having an efficient process to deal with financial matters like property division and child support in a non-adversarial way can further reduce not only conflict but negative feelings toward the other parent.
For more information on the effect of divorce, and specifically conflict on children, see works of Dr. Robert Emery of the University of Virginia, Director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law, particularly his book The Truth About Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions so You and Your Children Can Thrive, New York: Viking, 2004.
We talk a lot about how much money our mediation services can save you. But, most people can’t put a price on the happiness and well-being of their kids. Talk to your spouse/ partner today and see if you can agree to use our services. The benefits may just be priceless.