The Children of Divorce

The Children of Divorce

Divorce affects the way parents act around their children, and the effects of this change may shape the way a child grows and adapts.

In the 2008 online census done by the Government of Canada, 40.7 per cent of new marriages were projected to end in divorce by the 13th year. Alberta had a 46 per cent divorce rate.

A study done by researchers Michael Lamb and Joan Kelly in 2009 concluded that 20-25 per cent of children after parental divorce have adjustment problems, as opposed to the 12 per cent of children with the same problems, and whose parents stayed together.

Juan Guerrero, 17, was eight when his parents got a divorce.

Juan Guerrero poses outside in Calgary on Nov. 25, 2015.
Juan Guerrero poses outside in Calgary on Nov. 25, 2015. Photo by Miriam Johnston/SAIT Polytechnic

“I had to become really independent, and I had to look after my brother more,” said Guerrero, in a face-to-face interview. “It made me really unattached to things and made me realize that most things come to an end really fast, and if they do, then whatever, I move on.”

Dr. Sol Rappaport, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist, wrote about the affect that divorce has on children.

“When children have difficulties post divorce, it is related to specific factors that are associated with divorce, not a result of the divorce itself,” said Rappaport, in the Family Law Quarterly online.

Guerrero said that the biggest impact the divorce had on his life was the changes that came because of it. His mom received the opportunity to attend the University of British Columbia, and she took it.

Guerrero moved to Kelowna, British Columbia all the way from Quito, Ecuador, with his mom and brother four years ago.

“(The divorce) changed my life completely without me even noticing,” said Guerrero. “I never had any sort of paternal figure after I was eight.”

Rappaport also said that children have a harder time adapting to divorce when they believe it is their fault.

“I sometimes thought it was my fault when they would argue about me,” said Kelsey Benson, 19, whose parents divorced when she was five, in an email interview. “It hurt.”

“For a long time I felt worthless, and that the divorce was my fault,” said Lacey Rogers, 18, a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, during the show. “I never want to go back to the spot in my life where I believed I was not important.”

It has been shown in many studies that the level of conflict in a household during and after a divorce contributes to the child’s well being, said Rappaport.

Benson said her parents share custody, and still today they fight about what’s best for her.

“It’s very stressful to have to deal with two opposing parents,” said Benson. “It made it hard to have friends over and they constantly fought.”

The level of conflict contributes to the mental health of parents during and after a divorce and is a main factor in how their children will deal with the divorce, Rappaport said.

“My mom did everything she could to protect us,” said Guerrero. “I just got sad when I saw my mom crying.”

“Apparently I started crying and I said that I missed my dad.”

“My mom said that it just tore her inside, and she couldn’t breathe for a couple of minutes.”

Guerrero said that his mom tried to get back together with his dad after she saw him crying like that.

The financial impact of a divorce, having to support two households on the same amount of income, can also cause changes in children’s lives that affect them.

Because parents have to work more to support this change, children may receive less time and attention from their parents, and may also have more limited activities due to financial struggle, said Rappaport.

“My mom did everything she could, but she was only one person, and she was always working,” said Guerrero.

Allen Harris, a divorce attorney, said in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage online, academic problems are twice as great in children of divorce than in children with parents who stayed together.

They are also more likely to have health problems such as a stroke, he said.

Indicators of Well-being in Canada –

Deconstructing the impact of Divorce on Children –

Unpacking Court Divorce Decrees, Children’s Outcomes, and Three Unconfounded Determinants: An Evidence-Based Look –