When parents divorce, even amicable co-parenting arrangements are stressful on children. A litigated courtroom battle can be absolutely traumatizing. The effect of a contentious divorce can profoundly impact a child’s emotional and academic development.
Deciding how best to protect your children, or at least to minimize the effect that divorce has on them, really depends on unique family dynamics. Where there is a history of domestic violence or abuse, or where parents are locked in perpetual conflict that is either out in the open or a lingering undercurrent, making an affirmative move to end the marriage will benefit the children in the long run, even if it stressful during the proceedings.
Signs of stress to look out for
Divorce will impact children differently depending on the age, but a common reaction in most children is anger. This is manifested particularly in school-aged children and teens, especially if they feel they are to blame in some way for the breakup.
When children internalize these sad and angry feelings, they may withdraw from social situations. Their grades may suffer as they watch their parents’ conflicts play out, and they may engage in risky behaviors. Sadly, they often take the lessons learned from their parent’s experience into their adult relationships.
Talking about the divorce and staying emotionally connected with the children are some of the best ways to keep a relationship that will help them to feel that they are heard and supported. It is important to encourage them to come to you share feelings, and be patient if they don’t right away. Counseling often helps facilitate this process.
California’s view of what’s best for children in divorce
Every state uses a standard for what is in the best interest of the child, which the courts refer to when deciding custody arrangements during a divorce proceeding. California statutes outline these considerations in the Family Code Section 3011:
- health, safety and welfare of the child,
- history of abuse by one parent toward the child or the other parent,
- nature and amount of contact of the child to both parents,
- any habitual or illegal use of controlled substances
- child’s ties to school, home and community
Once these factors are taken into consideration, the judge will decide custody arrangements, parenting time and visitation rights. The court will also use these criteria to determine primary or joint physical or legal custody.