Divorce can be emotionally harmful to a child. Divorce inalterably changes the family dynamic. To help limit the negative impacts that divorce can have on children, parents should consider and rely on the Collaborative Divorce process
It is vital to understand how childhood experiences can impact a child in the future. For context, consider The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in the late-1990s. This seminal work is critical to understanding the negative impact that adverse childhood experiences have on children. The study concluded that adverse childhood experiences could have significant physical, mental, and emotional effects into adulthood. (See https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/.)
It is well-known that child separation from a parent, a form of neglect, is an adverse childhood experience. A recent interview of Dr. James Coan by the Institute for Family Studies highlights how neglect can adversely impact children.
“Adverse Childhood Experiences range from things like parental divorce (relatively common) to many forms of abuse and neglect (relatively rare). Their effects vary, and the data suggest that most children are resilient. But there does seem to be a cumulative effect—so the more of these traumas one experiences, the worse outcomes you can expect. Such outcomes include behavioral problems, anger, aggression, impulsivity, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and a number of physiological symptoms like heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune activity, etc. The age at which a trauma is experienced matters as well. The younger you are, the more devastating the trauma can be. More surprising to many people is the relative impact of neglect versus more active abuse. Of the two potential traumas, it looks increasingly like neglect is the most negatively impactful. Children need to be cared for and interacted with.” (See The Trauma of Family Separation: An Interview with Dr. James A. Coan, https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-trauma-of-family-separation-an-interview-with-professor-james-a-coan.)
As Dr. Coan appropriately notes, divorce is a relatively common adverse childhood experience. Many children are sufficiently resilient to overcome divorce. The concern, though, is one of accumulation. A child living through the divorce process may experience neglect because she no longer sees each parent every day. Also, and unwittingly, a divorcing couple could allow adverse experiences to accumulate during the divorce process (for example, fighting with your partner in front of the child, emotionally neglecting the child’s needs, or denying visits with the non-custodial parent).
Divorcing parents should strongly consider the Collaborative Divorce process when a child is involved. A key to Collaborative Divorce is the Collaborative Team, which helps the adults navigate through their own emotions and fear. The Team includes the parents, the attorneys, a Divorce Coach, and a Financial Professional. The Team will support the entire family and help the family resolve their case issues. The Collaborative Team can help the adults keep the best interests of their children in mind and can help the parents avoid the accumulation of adverse experiences and potential trauma from the parent’s divorce. The Collaborative Team, which could include a Child Specialist in complicated situations can also help the parents understand their child’s possible response to the divorce.
Ultimately, the Collaborative Divorce Team can help the parents keep the focus on the health and safety of their children. The goal is to bolster the children’s resilience and allow the entire family successfully navigate the divorce.