Children of divorce are the subject of a great deal of sociological analysis. This sample research paper explores the social impact of divorce, and analyses exactly how improvements can be made in order to ensure that children of divorce are taken care of in a holistic fashion.
Children of divorce
In a society where divorce is becoming increasingly commonplace, government-funded social programs are a necessary financial burden on the taxpayer under our current system. This is because one parent is often saddled with crippling alimony and child support payments which they are often unable to pay. This results in government programs filling the financial gaps for all involved.
Further, it is imperative to fully acknowledge the effect divorce has on children and what steps need to be taken to minimize the potential adverse consequences it has on them, including emotional and behavioral problems. In order to reduce the direct and indirect costs of divorce to the taxpayer, and to ensure that more children of divorce are raised in well-adjusted and stable environments, it is necessary to completely change the way divorce is handled by the civil legal system in this country. This can be accomplished by a more equitable method of determining the appropriate amount of child support a non-custodial parent must pay.
Immediately following a divorce, women often have a significantly reduced income, which improves gradually, especially over the first ten years following the divorce (Morrison, 2000, p. 561). There is no argument that a financial settlement in a divorce needs to provide for the welfare of the children first, and that the children predominately live with the mother. Alternative methods may provide greater financial security for all members in the long-term and also account for the financial security of the non-custodial parent.
Effects of divorce on children
There are a plethora of negative consequences that potentially befall children of divorce. Amato (2000) lists academic achievement, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept, and social competence as factors that may be affected in the lives of children going through parental divorce (p. 1277). During a divorce, children are often left to their own devices in terms of school, community interactions, and emotional processing while their parents deal with their own emotional, financial, and legal struggles during the separation.
These children often fall behind in school as their parents have less time to spend coaching them in schoolwork. Emotional and behavioral problems are common because children of divorce tend to act out in anger, self-harm, or anxiety as a way of expressing their feelings and experiences regarding the divorce. The quality of both parents’ relationships with the children following the divorce is positively correlated with children doing better academically physically, and emotionally.
“Positive involvement in the children’s activities (e.g., homework and school), strength of the emotional tie between parent and child (e.g., feelings of closeness and positive relationships), and authoritative parenting such as fair and effective discipline are shown to greatly benefit the child’s performance in school and in social situations” (Sandler et al., 2008, p. 3).
Often, parents post-divorce withdraw from their children’s lives due to experiencing depression or hopelessness. Wood et al. (2004) use the term “depressive/withdrawn parenting” to describe parents with depression symptoms and explain that they are less engaged both emotionally and behaviorally in the child’s daily life (p. 124).
In addition to emotional consequences, the financial changes that a family generally experiences during divorce can be deleterious to children. The negative effects a monetary arrangement that swings too far in the direction of the mother in those instances, with the father bearing unreasonable financial hardship, are many. One significant by-product of that drastic disparity may be that the post-marital relationship is strained by one of the major stressors of divorce, economic decline (Amato, 2000, p. 1271), which can potentially erode the cooperation of the two parents in the rearing of children.
This unequal financial burden could strain relations to the extent that one parent withdraws from interaction with the other, and by extension, the children. This is especially deleterious if it causes fathers to be absent from their children’s lives, as there is a marked difference in the lives of children whose fathers are involved and those whose fathers are not involved.
In their chapter in Lamb’s (2004) The Role of the Father in Child Development, Amato and Dorius relate that
“studies consistently show that positive involvement on the part of non-resident fathers is associated with fewer emotional and behavioral problems and better school adjustment among children” (p. 177).
It stands to reason that the opposite is true – children whose fathers are not involved have more problems and trouble adjusting and experience chronic depression in many cases.. This is especially true for boys (Wood et al., 2004) and is clearly displayed in the disproportionate amount of legal problems in the population of males who come from families of divorce.
Divorce, children, and the law
These cause-effect relationships have implications for the courts as well as individuals and families going through divorce. Sandler et al., in their 2008 report in Family Court Review, stated as much:
“For the general population of divorces, the issue is how to develop parenting plans that provide adequate opportunity for a positive relationship with both the mother and the father” (p. 10).
It may be appropriate to add equitable financial arrangements to that issue, in order not to erode the positive result of balanced parenting plans. Certainly, it is crucial for both parents to contribute financially to the well-being of the children, as declining standard-of-living affects children’s security, nutrition, and educational opportunities (Amato, 2000, p. 1272).
However, unbalanced child support requirements, often weighed heavily upon the non-custodial father, can create conflict between parents which in turn affects the children’s well-being. If child support is too far above the father’s ability to pay, he may not be allowed to see his children. As Sandler et al. (2008) explain, the closeness of the father-child relationship is directly correlated to the child’s emotional health (p. 3). In assigning a fair child support, the father is more likely to pay the alimony and also more likely to have a healthy relationship with the mother and, in turn, the child.
As much as the financial aspects of divorce are felt by families, American tax payers are also impacted by unbalanced divorce arrangements. Willet (2011) cites that tax payers spend tens of billions of dollars on divorce-associated fallout, mostly in the form of social services. The current divorce system obviously causes great harm to society as well as to children trapped in the system.
With the increase of externalized behavioral problems such as aggression and internalized problems such as depression and anxiety (Wood et al., 2004, p. 121), children of divorce rely more heavily on mental health services. Additionally, behavioral and emotional problems can cause these individuals to struggle with employment and illegal activities, further drawing on social services such as unemployment benefits, jails and prisons, and other institutions.
Recommendations for handling a divorce with children involved
Though controversial, one of the most effective ways to reduce the various struggles resulting from divorce may be to provide more government funding. Proactive measures such as legal assistance and mediation at the beginning of divorce proceedings may keep the financial effects of divorce to continue draining society of taxpayer money.
In the period during and immediately after a divorce, adults face a variety of stressful situations including custodial negotiations; less contact with children; continuing conflict with the ex-spouse; child support; loss of emotional support due to declining contact with in-laws, married friends, and neighbors; and downward economic mobility (Amato, 2000, p. 1272).
In providing services to help newly-divorced parents navigate the many choices of divorce plans, further conflict down the road can be reduced or eliminated. By using government-funded rather than biased legal parties in developing methods such as assessing each parents’ income, expenses, and responsibilities to the child, a more fair and equal decision can be reached to determine appropriate child support payments.
It may be counter-intuitive to consider assigning less child support to promote greater financial stability for a child, but when payments are set too high, the non-custodial parent is more likely to not pay at all, in which case society ends up making up the differences. These social safety nets could instead be utilized to assist with the other problems that come out of divorce which are less easy to prevent such as child behavioral and emotional problems both during the divorce proceedings and later in life.
While deciding what system the courts will adopt going forward, leaders in the field of divorce proceedings must keep the weaknesses of the current system in mind and attempt to reduce or eliminate those problems. Under the present system, social safety nets that take up the slack for financially overburdened parents require a large amount of money that could be used in more effective capacities such as divorce counseling, parenting classes, therapy for children, or employment services.
As well, divorce has a number of negative effects on children that must be acknowledged and actively reduced where possible. In order to reduce the direct and indirect costs of divorce on the taxpayer and to ensure that more children of divorce have the necessary stability and opportunities to adjust well, it is necessary to drastically change the concept of divorce in the civil courts. The most impactful way to address this issue quite possibly is to apply a fairer and more equal method of determining the amount of financial support that is required to be paid by one party to the other.
Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1271.
Fathers, children, and divorce. M.E. Lamb (Ed.). (2004). The Role of the Father in Child Development (4th ed., pp. 177). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Morrison, D. (2000). Routes to children’s economic recovery after divorce: Are cohabitation and remarriage equivalent? American Sociological Review, 65(4), 561. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from web.ebscohost.com.
Sandler, I., Miles, J., Cookston, J., & Braver, S. (2008). Parent Psychoeducational programs and reducing the negative effects of interparental conflict following divorce. Family Court Review, 46, 10. Retrieved December 7, 2013, from www.lexis-nexis.com/hottopics/ lnacademic.
Willett, Beverly. “The Most Pioneering Divorce Reform Effort In 40 Years.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 May 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2013. .
Wood, J. J., Repetti, R. L., & Roesch, S. C. (2004). Divorce and children’s adjustment problems at home and school: The role of depressive/withdrawn parenting. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 35(2), 138.