Today a divorce is when a marriage is legally dissolved because the relationship is irretrievably broken. However, before the Divorce Act of 1968, divorces were increasingly difficult to obtain. In order to be granted one, the couple would have to meet at least one criteria of marital breakdown – they would have to be living apart for a year or longer, one of the spouses has to have committed an act of adultery, or one spouse has treated the other in a cruel way.
The average Canadian family features parents who deal with a plethora of stressors. One of the main reasons for marriage dissatisfaction, however, is money. This problem is prevalent when a family does not have enough income to support its needs or wants. Pressure to fulfill these desires will create an unhappy relationship between everybody involved. Regardless, when parents separate, it can create a whole new distress in the child which can outweigh that of any economical situation the family could be facing.
While parents toying with the idea of divorce may think that by legally separating, they could be risking their children’s overall happiness; by staying together they could be putting the child at greater risk of mental and emotional problems. Children who are witness to their parents constant fighting and conflicts are at higher risk of long-term distress (Jekielek, 1998). Divorce where there is little parental conflict will actually do a child less harm than no divorce with high parental conflict. The symptoms of being in an environment where there is high parental conflict is very similar to those seen in children of divorce; they can develop anxiety and aggression (Morrison and Corio, 1999), as well as behavioral problems in school such as antisocial behavior and difficulty concentrating (Amato and Sobolewski, 2001).
Socialization of children is essential during school years. Children who are affected negatively during this time by parental conflict or divorce can create problems for the future by making them socially withdrawn. Poor social skills and shyness can force children into complications which have the potentiality to permanently damage their views and impact the formation of healthy relationships. There are three factors which account for much of the distress among children, and high parental conflict is the most determining factor. The second is a decline of living standards; this is where the child’s family has a low economic status and cannot fulfill the needs and basic wants of a child successfully. A child’s family can reach poverty if the mother or father who is granted custody does not earn enough money to support the child, due to the loss of complimenting income from the noncustodial parent or the fact that they cannot get a job because they had sacrificed their education and employment opportunities in order to care for the child. The third factor is the absence of the noncustodial parent. This is because the child loses a role-model who they look to for emotional and physical support (Resnick et al., 1997), an issue which the social learning theory commends. The time with the noncustodial parent will eventually decrease with time, whereas the child’s relationship with his or her mother will increase (Amato and Booth, 1996).
Whereas evidence in the past has supported findings that a child is well adapted, self confident and secure in who they are when they are raised in a two parent as opposed to single parent household, a child with divorced parents is said to suffer both mentally and emotionally. There are two propositions, one of which suggests that children who grow up in households where the two biological parents are not present will exhibit lower levels of well-being, and the other says that the adverse effects on youthful well-being will be especially acute when the cause of parental absence is marital separation, divorce, or desertion. They often tend to develop behavioral problems and do less well in school than children of intact families (Demo, Fine, and Ganong, 2000). On top of that, they are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior such as substance and alcohol abuse.
These damaging effects have the potential to last the child into adulthood. One study showed that almost half the children of divorced parents entered adulthood as worried, self-deprecating, and sometimes angry young men and women (Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakeslee, 2000). They also tend to be less happy than a child with intact parents, and increasingly likely to suffer from health problems, depend on welfare, earn low income, and experience divorce themselves. Problems with marriage are thought to be prevalent in cases where a child’s parents have experienced divorce and can lead to an increase in divorces between them as well as an overall aversion to marriage (Anthony, 1974).
Many of these adults continue to struggle with depression, anxiety, and overall feeling of dissatisfaction with their overall lives. These people will utilize more mental health services than will those who grew up with both parents (Amato and Sobolewski, 2001). Compared to children whose parents did not separate, children with divorced parents are more likely to drop out of high school, less likely to attend college, and complete fewer years of education overall. Some believe that this is due to the emotional disturbance which is caused in households where parental conflict is high, resulting in a poor sense of self in the child. Poor sense of self also leads to other relationship troubles including infidelity, reoccurring divorces, and remarriages and in extreme cases spousal and domestic abuse.
It has also been found that those living in a single-parent household are associated with a greater risk of not completing high school (Deleire and Kalil, 2002). In one study, it shows that the proportion of children graduating from high school is the highest for children with no change in their family structure and lowest for children with three or more changes in their family structure. Relative to children in households that reported no change in marital status, children who experienced any type of change in family structure were less likely to graduate from high school. The odds of completing high school for children whose parents experienced parental divorce only were 61 percent lower than for children whose parents remained together.
However, despite evidence which proves that divorce does cause an emotional disturbance within children, some analysts disagree. Despite the link between divorce and long-term negative consequences, this evidence is based on families who seek psychological counseling. These families are a small and unrepresentative minority of the population. Another discrepancy in this theory is that some analysts fail to ask whether factors other than divorce might be responsible for the long-term distress experienced by children of divorced parents. A re-analysis of 93 relevant studies showed that the overall effect of divorce on children’s well-being is not strong and is declining over time (Amato and Booth, 1991). Whereas some studies show a significant decrease of education completion, one study done across Canada, Australia, and the United States of America shows that divorce is not an educational “disaster”. Rather, it says that children whose parents divorce get approximately seven-tenths of a year less education than children from intact families.
A divorce is not the determining factor in long-term distress in children; rather, it is a multitude of factors which complement each other in creating a child with various mental and emotional difficulties. Despite evidence supporting both sides of this argument, those who believe that studies which discredit the results which seem to support divorce as the major distress-causing agent of previous studies seem to be the most believable; this is because there is simply so much more to a divorce than the act of separation in itself. Determinants such as parental conflict, economic status, and the upbringing of the child all play major roles in providing distress in a child’s life. Although the argument of divorce causing some sort of problematic experiences in a child, which will last them into adulthood, is a strong one, one must remember all of the other agents which build up to a divorce when deciding whether or not a divorce is the sole detrimental attribute to a problematic childhood.
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