Everyone who gets married hopes to stay that way forever. But despite everyone’s best efforts and intentions, sometimes divorce really is the only solution. For childless couples, divorce is a decision that does not greatly impact anyone but the couple themselves. Of course, the same cannot be said of parents who divorce.
Divorce can have a profound effect on children. And children do not really have a say in whether their parents stay together. Obviously, having children gives parents an enormous incentive to work things out. But in the end, the decision to keep the family together or split it up rests with the parents.
Health scientists and social scientists want to know exactly how divorce affects children. Let’s look at a pair of recent studies on the consequences of divorce and then discuss how those ill-effects might be mitigated or avoided altogether.
The first study showed that children of divorced parents may be at greater risk of health problems. Researchers at the University College of London studied the blood of 7,462 people age 44. They found that the subjects whose parents had divorced before they reached age 16 showed elevated levels of a protein that is associated with increased risk of adult-onset diabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Rebecca Lacey, who led the study, said that it is not necessarily the divorce itself that causes the physiological changes, but rather the socioeconomic hardships that often accompany divorce when compared to two-parent households. For instance, children of divorced parents can face greater economic challenges and more limited educational opportunities.
The second study indicated that children of divorced parents regard their relationships with their parents as less strong than other children. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surveyed 7,335 men and women averaging 24 years old. Those from divorced families less often saw their current relationship with their parents as “secure.” The effect was more pronounced in those whose parents divorced before they reached age 5.
If you think a divorce may be in your future, studies like this can be disheartening because you feel conflicted about what is best for your children and yourself. But not every divorce or troubled relationship or child is the same.
If divorce is inevitable, at the very least, it can be peaceful. “Collaborative divorce” is a process by which couples agree from the outset to cooperate and negotiate toward a solution that is satisfactory to both parties and their children. They agree not to litigate against each other. The process is not only often faster and less expensive than litigious divorce, but also far less emotionally draining.
Many couples with prenuptial agreements find that they give a certain peace of mind and help them avoid fights. If you are considering divorce, it is too late for a prenuptial agreement, of course, but not for a postnuptial agreement. “Postnups” are just like prenups, but for couples already married. Sometimes it can help prevent conflict to have a written agreement in place, and if a divorce still comes to pass, the outcome is largely prenegotiated and the process can be relatively quick and painless.
Notice one thing both the studies mentioned have in common: the negative effects of divorce on children are worse for younger children. No divorce at all gives kids the best chance, but if divorce must happen, later is better than sooner. If you and your partner can stay amicable and on the same team for the sake of your child – even for just a couple more years – the benefits can be significant. Couples therapy can go a long way to help you make this happen.
Remember, when a divorce is finalized, you can still give your children enormous advantage by actively maintaining healthy, happy relationships – both with your children and your ex. Children who see their parents maintain civility and cooperation and keep close ties with both of them will fare far better than those who do not.