I am a Child and Youth worker and I work within a school system. I have parents asking me questions on a regular basis on various topics and one topic that comes up is divorce. I often redirect to more qualified individuals but would like to gain more knowledge in this area. I would like to present a 'case study' and ask for input.
Father has been separated for almost 6 years. For five of them he has been with someone else, 3 of which have been common-law. He contemplates divorce but worries about the effects on his son. Mom had left (for someone else) and has had two relationships during this time. If they get a divorce now how will it affect their 12-year-old child (what are the concerns)? Is there any reason to prolong this decision? They have shared custody-50/50.
Thanks for your time,
My question would be "if they divorce now, what changes?" It is often said that a child is better off with two happily divorced parents (or one happily divorced parent) than two unhappily married parents - I agree with this.
The question for me is not how the divorce will impact on the child, but much rather: What has the impact of the strained relationships over the past years been on the child and to what extent has repair/strengthening of relationships taken place? What will change now in terms of relationships (rather than divorce)? How will the child's basic needs in terms of relatedness and belonging still be met adequately within the future relationships? What do the parents need to do to ensure that their child feels loved and retains a sense of home despite the changes? And then someone needs to ask this child how he/she feels about all this.
Just my thoughts.
Werner van der Westhuizen
SOS Children's Village
In response to Tracy's question about divorce - my question is what is the difference between the situation they are living in now (separation) and the finality that a divorce brings? If the parents have been apart for a number of years, what is holding them back from finalizing it? I can't see any reasons to remain legally married if the two parents are living their own separate lives. As well, how do the other partners feel about the fact that the parents of the child are holding off after an extended period of time to finalize the divorce? I would assume it would at some point, if not already is creating some sort of tension in their relationships, and if not for the whole family. Also, if the son is aware that the parents are not legally divorced, that could possibly bring false-hope of reconciliation to the son.
That is something that should be avoided, yet the
parents could be doing that unintentionally.
I would say that holding off on something that appears to be "over" is only doing more harm than good. I return to my original query; how is divorcing different from separation? Also, who is it benefitting to NOT separate? I would assume no one.
I do not understand what the dilemma is in this case? They are not together and have not been for half of the boy's life, they are both in another relationship...the only thing a divorce should do is secure the belief that there will be no reconciliation which should prove beneficial to their son and his adjustments to life.
Get the divorce and allow the family to move on to a more positive outlook and allow for closure for a past relationship between a man and women, the child has both parents through shared custody. Both parents have the right to life in all aspects of their world one of them being to make life changes that allow for future peace and stability to their personal life which will in turn foster a more solid foundation (finalizing any pondering questions the child may express or internalize of a reconciliation between parents).
The short answer to question 1 is yes it will have an impact but the type and nature will depend on the nature of the relationship he has with his parents, the type of conflict he has seen between the parents and where he is at developmentally as a young person and what his level of emotional stability is at.
So to question 2 ... depending on the answers above, they may very well want to consider how they move forward ... it could mean delaying ... but if there overt conflict that is damaging this may take them in another direction ... or again they may move forward but have a planned process to involve all children and have time for preparation for this change as well as what may be coming down the road.
These are huge issues for children because it is often the case that they experience loss after loss with no control over events and it is also often not their choice. Most children want their family! Plain and simple.
Check out a few things:
My wife and my website for resources for professionals and families http://www.stepinstitute.ca/
Also Judith Wallerstein's book about the impact of divorce on children (25 year follow-up) and the book Imperfect Harmony ... it is a different take on divorce ... suggests staying together for the sake of the children.
All the best.
Wow, that is a complicated situation. I have a couple of thoughts ...
1) It seems as though the only actual piece missing in this scenario is the "legalities" that accompany divorce. Every other aspect of this child's family relationship point to O-V-E-R. If each parent is already living as though the marriage is fully dissolved (emotionally and legally) then, I really wonder why these parents WOULDN'T divorce.
2) Building on that, I would even worry that perhaps keeping the marriage while living completely outside of it would be confusing to the youth in question. I believe that children need to know clearly the boundaries of relationships and this seems to be potentially a very blurry situation. What if this child believes that because the marriage is not yet "over" that his parents are getting back together, when in fact they are not? Of course, I do not know the stories/motivations of the parents, but I would strongly suggest that they speak candidly with each other about whether or not either of them plan to re-unite with the other. If they do not plan to do this, then they should divorce, giving their child a clear boundary of where their relationship lies. Question - Do they each believe that their marriage is over?
Just my thoughts...
I feel as though the damage has already been done. I think that if they have been separated for that long, the effects on the child should be evident already. I feel that divorce and separation have the same influence on the child. I think all that needs to be done now is to address his feelings (possibly of shame, anger, guilt, sadness). I think that ultimately children want to feel protected (emotionally and physically), so both parents still need to provide that security even when they are apart. I believe it comes down to the fact that children are afraid! Afraid of being abandoned, afraid of change, afraid of losing attachment and so much more and they just need to know that their parents still care for them and he is still their child.
A lot of times, older children will show their emotions through their actions which could lead to drugs, alcohol, aggressive behavior etc soon in adolescence. So I don't think prolonging their divorce is what they should be worried about, but rather focusing on the child's needs and feelings as it seems they have been ignored for 6 years. Although children a lot of times are forgotten in a divorce/separation, they are first priority.
I believe that reassuring the child that both parents love him, minimizing conflict, addressing his feelings, and providing a support structure for him will allow him to deal with his emotions. This structure could consist of, but is not limited to; friends, family, teachers, doctors, therapists.
Children sometimes benefit from having a pet as their
friend and most importantly, the parents need to be directly involved. They
just want to have consistency; they want to have a balance of being nurtured
and disciplined and the parents need to recognize this!
Hi my name is Bailey I am in my second year of Child and Youth Care Counselling at Mount Royal University.
There are many questions that I am asking myself about this situation. How is the child feeling? What are his feelings towards the parents? Does the child understand the relationship with his parents? If the parents are still married, is the child hoping that his parents will get back together? If the parents do get a divorce what changes will be made in the child's life?
As with any divorce or separation that involves children
there are many questions that need to be asked and answered.
The child may be confused having his parents staying married, but not living together. Has anyone talked to the child about the situation? How is the child coping? I understand that this situation has been happening for almost half of the child's life, but how is the child emotionally and developmentally? Any divorce or separation that happens in a child's life is going to have a major impact on that child. They may not understand what healthy relationships are. And in time the child may have doubts about his relationships as an adult.
The parents relationship is clearly over, the father has been with someone else for five years out of the six that they have been separated. Getting a divorce may not change anything in the family dynamics, after all the parents have shared custody of the child. Getting a divorce for the parents may bring closure for them, and their child as well; they may be able to move on with their lives and their relationships.