In today’s society, one of the toughest things many parents and children have to face or deal with is divorce. It is usually extremely tough on the parents getting the divorce however many times the children simply get lost in all the mess and are left to cope as best as they can. Eventhough people get divorced for many different reasons; often times the children tend to try and shoulder some of the blame. In this paper I plan to look at a few of the effects divorce has on the parents getting the divorce, plus look at some of the affects it has on the children caught in the middle.
In today’s society it is rarely even a shock that people are divorced. It has become as common place as the marriage itself. Between 50% and 67% of all first time marriages end in divorce (Gottman, 1998). This same report done on divorce rates (Gottman, 1998) also found that for second marriages, the rate is about 10% higher than for the first. The rate of divorce has leveled off some within the past six years, but a large number of families continue to experience it each year (Shaw, Emery, & Tuer, 1993).
In fact, approximately 2% of children living in the United States are faced with parental divorce each year (Emery & Forehand, 1994), and, in one sample of children, it was observed that 25% of the children experienced a parental breakup by age 14 (Baydar, 1988). In most all of the newspapers you can look in there and see a list of all the people getting married. In contrast, you can look across the page and see a list just about as long of people getting divorced. Effects on Parents There have been numerous research studies done on the effects divorce has on the parents.
One such report found that many of the spouses of divorce have mental and physical health problems, as well as, increased risk of psychopath-ology, increased wrecks with fatalities, increased physical illness, suicide, violence and homicides (Gottman, 1998). In another related study done on adults, it was found that adults, who had gone through a divorce, usually reported less satisfaction with family and friends and an increase in anxiety. They often felt that bad things more frequently happen to them, and that they found it more difficult to cope with life’s stresses in general (Friedman, 1995).
Friedman (1995) also published a recent report based on the Terman longitudinal study of gifted children. The report stated that survival curves showed that the combination of one’s parents having divorced and one’s own divorce reduced longevity by an average of approximately eight years (Friedman, 1995). In looking at problems for parents associated with divorce, researchers have also begun to look at different avenues that they feel are important in getting good research. For example, they have begun to study loneliness caused by divorce and the effects it has on the parents and even the children.
One study in particular suggests that 25% of the U. S. reported feeling intensely lonely in the two-week period following divorce (Rokach, 1997). They say that the effects of loneliness are evident in its identification as a frequent presenting complaint to telephone hotlines, college psychological clinics, and youth and marriage counseling services (Jones, Rose, & Russell, 1990). Researchers have also begun to study the social importance of loneliness due to the large number of effects it has on emotional, physical, and behavioral problems (Jones et al. , 1990).
Jones (1990) also found loneliness to be inversely related to measures of self-esteem and has also been found to be largely associated with depression, anxiety, and interpersonal hostility and with substance abuse, suicide, and vulnerability to health problems. Effects on Children In much of the research being done today, it has been found that divorce has a relatively small, but significant impact on multiple areas of child functioning (Forehand, Armistead, & David, 1997). However, one study discovered that a major risk factor in a child’s psychosocial adjustment is parental divorce (Forehand, 1998).
Another particularly good study conducted a meta-analysis of 92 different studies comparing children from divorced families to children from families that were still together. It was found that there were short-term negative effects of divorce in the areas of school achievement, conduct problems, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and parent-child relations (Amato & Keith, 1991). There was then a second meta-analysis conducted of 37 studies, which found similar results in terms of the long-term impact of divorce (Amato & Keith, 1991).
However, the path of research has taken a small turn in recent years. For example, the research is starting to focus more on whether the negative effects that have been found on children existed prior to the divorce or are simply the effects of the divorce (Forehand, Armistead, & David, 1997). The research is also examining two family processes, in order, to better understand the mechanisms that may account for child maladjustment prior to or subsequent to the parents divorce (Forehand, Armistead, & David, 1997).
The two areas they have begun looking at more closely are conflict between parents and disrupted parenting. This change in research has led to two main questions that must be addressed: (1) Do children whose parents get divorced display adjustment problems prior to the divorce, and (2) are conflicts between the parents and disruptive parenting evident prior to the divorce (Forehand, Armistead, & David, 1997). Most of the results to this research have been very mixed.
One study found that when compared with children whose parents were still married, children whose parents were divorced were already having behavior problems and poor achievement prior to the divorce (Elliot & Richards, 1991). Other researchers found similar results to this after their own research. However, one study did not find this to be true. It did not find that the child’s adjustment difficulties that traditionally attributed to parental divorce existed prior to divorce (Morrison & Cherlin, 1995 & Shaw et al. 93). The researchers in this study did not see a reduction in the negative effects of divorce when the child’s pre-divorce characteristics were controlled (Cherlin, 1995). The second mechanism, which has been identified as, important to child functioning in the context of parental divorce is parenting (Capaldi & Patterson, 1991; Fauber, Forehand, Thomas, & Wierson, 1990; Forehand, Thomas, Wierson, Brody, & Fauber, 1990).
There has been only one study done that has compared parenting in families that are together to those that are broken by divorce (Shaw et al. , 1993). In this study, it was found that for boys, but not girls, to-be-divorced parents demonstrated less concern and more rejecting behavior than parents who did not divorce in the future (Shaw, 1993). One aspect that has received increased attention in recent years is the study of risk and protective factors for psychosocial adjustment of children and adolescents (Haggerty, Sherrod, Garmazey, & Rutter, 1994).
In addition to temperament, gender and factors outside of the family, there has also been an increase in the research of factors within the family such as risk and protection (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998). Along with the studies done on parental divorce and conflicts among parents, there are also studies being done on parental depressive moods, parental physical health problems, and conflictual parent-child/adolescent relationships which were discovered to be related to adolescent psychosocial functioning (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998).
Because of this, it has become increasingly important to study any single disruption in family life regardless of size or type simply because the magnitude of the effect on any one risk factor is relatively small (Amato & Keith; Reid & Crisafulli, 1990). Put more simply, researchers feel that each of these small factors can begin to add up to one big factor. The research has also found that the five family stressors that were selected for study are interrelated and so they usually don’t occur in isolation (Forehand, Long, Brody, Fauber & Slotkin, 1998).
Researchers also found that family risk factors interact such that high levels of stress on two factors are associated with more adolescent adjustment difficulty than one would expect based on the additive effects of two family stressors (Forehand, Neighbors, Devine, & Armistead, 1994). Researchers feel, that these studies have suggested a need to study multiple family stressors in order to understand the child within the family context (Armistead et al. , 1995). One method of doing this, found by researchers, is to study the cumulative risk index.
The cumulative risk index examines whether or not a relationship exists between a number of family risk factors and youth psychosocial adjustments (Jessor, Bos, Vanderryn, Costa, and Turbin, 1995). There have been four studies that have directly addressed the relationship between number of family risk factors and psychosocial adjustment of youth in those families (Forehand et al. , 1991; Luster & McAdoo, 1994; Rutter, 1979; Sameroff, Seifer, Barocas, Zax, & Greenspoon, 1987).
The results found that as the number of family risk factors increased, behavior problems increased, grade point average and academic achievement decreased, presence of a child psychiatric disorder increased, and standardized intelligence test scores decreased (Forehand et al. , 1991; Luster & McAdoo, 1994). Eventhough there has not been any major examination done on the long-term relationship between the number of family risk factors and youth psychosocial adjustment, one researcher did find some interesting information (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998).
She studied children which were classified as ‘at risk’ based on prenatal stress and other family variables such as poverty, parental divorce, and parental mental illness (Werner, 1989). She basically found that while most of the high risk children had problems in their teens, they were able to overcome those problems in their twenties and thirties (Werner, 1989). Although this study alluded to a temporary relationship between the number of family risk factors and the psychosocial adjustment of children in these families, Forehand and Wierson (1993) found something different.
They proposed that the long term effects of living in a family with those multiple risk factors could lead to a disruption in youth psychosocial adjustment (Forehand and Wierson, 1993). Marital distress, conflict, and disruption were also found to be associated with a wide range of deleterious effects on children, including depression, withdrawal, poor social competence, health problems, poor academic performance, and a variety of conduct-related difficulties (Gottman, 1998).
Another aspect to look at when researching the problems children have with divorce is the amount of contact lost between the child and the nonresidential father. This has brought about much more research which is being done on the effect of the failure of a large proportion of fathers to maintain contact with their nonresidential children (Stone & McKenry, 1998). This, in turn, has led to several national studies, which have shown a decline in father contact after divorce (Stone & McKenry, 1998).
One study found that of the fathers surveyed, 23% had had no contact with their 11- to 16-year-old children during the previous 5 years (Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987). Another indicated that 19% of the children in their sample had contact fewer than one time per month, whereas 23% had not seen their fathers in the past year (Seltzer, Schaeffer, and Charng, 1989). Braver, Wolchik, Sandler, Fogas, & Zvetina (1991) feels that, eventhough recent studies have reported significantly lower visitation failure rates, it is difficult to interpret these findings due to sampling biases or geographical and cohort differences.
Researchers suggest that in order to study nonresidential father involvement, you must address a variety of factors (Stone & McKenry, 1998). A few suggested factors are; (a) positive child outcome with nonresidential visitation, (b) fathers’ post-divorce well-being and the extent of their contact with nonresidential children and (c) nonresidential father involvement and payment of child support (Arditti, 1992; Dudley, 1991). The real reasons nonresidential fathers decrease contact with their children following divorce in not really known (Dudley, 1991).
The reason one researcher gives for the lack of quality research is that much of the research done on this has been based on mothers’ reports of fathers’ behavior (Bronstein, 1988; Kruk, IS94). One study did do some research on father involvement and found strong links between socioeconomic status and father involvement (Sweeney, 1997). It also found that fathers with high levels of education are more accessible to and engaged with their school-age children.
Another study also found, that when the father parenting role identity is high, there is an increase in the level of father involvement (Stone, 1998). However, it was found that in situations where the parents were divorced, if there is ongoing contact from both parents, it could make a considerable difference in the lives of these adolescents (Lebow, 1998). This study also found that if conflicts between the divorced parents continued, it has a negative consequence on the adolescents.
Treatment Having discussed and looked at all the problems divorce can lead to, it should be one of our top priorities to reduce marital conflict and try to prevent divorce to the best of our abilities. Many researchers do not feel that divorce is always a negative outcome of marital therapy (Bray, 1995). In fact, Bray (1995) also says that many experienced clinicians can attest to the fact that some pouses presenting for marital therapy have already made up their minds that they want a divorce and seek marital therapy for reasons other than improving marital satisfaction.
However, many researchers agree that marital therapy can be effective in reducing conflict and increasing marital satisfaction, at least in the short term, when compared to no-treatment controls (Baucom & Hoffman, 1986; Bradbury & Fincham, 1990; Dunn & Schwebel, 1995). The most researched form of marital therapy, Behavioral marital therapy (BMT), has been repeatedly demonstrated both in the United States and in other countries (Hahlweg & Markman, 1988).
BMT is a skills-oriented treatment that includes training in communication and problem-solving skills and behavior exchange principles (Bray, 1995). One researcher states that this approach is based, to some degree, on empirical research on functional and distressed marriages (Gottman, 1994). There are other therapy approaches, such as systems approaches or insight-oriented marital therapy. However, they have been given less attention by marital therapy researchers eventhough data also supports the efficacy of these approaches when compared to no-treatment conditions (Bray, 1995).
There are three methods for evaluating research on the effectiveness of marital therapy that most reviewers generally use (Bray, 1995). First, in a narrative approach reviewers evaluate studies on a case-by-case basis using a nonempirical approach to critique the studies; second is meta-analysis, which is a statistical technique that allows comparison of the effect sizes of various treatments across studies; third is the evaluation of clinical significance, which is a method of comparing studies to determine the clinical relevance of outcomes (Bray, 1995).
Bray (1995) points out a couple more important points which are that effect size (ES) statistics reflect the magnitude of effect that a given treatment has in comparison to a control group and also, the larger the ES, the more effective the treatment. So, using the Marital Therapy method, the ES suggests that the probability of improvement at posttreatment is 40% greater for BMT than for no-treatment controls (Hahlweg & Markman, 1988) and that there is a 60% chance that a treatment couple will be better following marital therapy than a couple who did not receive therapy (Shadish et al. 93). However, eventhough reviewers agree that marital therapy is effective in reducing marital conflict, there is less support for the clinical significance of these outcomes (Bray, 1995). Jacobson and Addis (1993) conclude that “most tested treatments report no better than 50% success” (p. 86). It was also found by Shadish et al. (1993) that 41 % of couples in marital therapy moved from distressed to nondistressed status following treatment. Another important factor that researchers are starting to look at is the long-term effect of treatment.
However, to date very little is known about the long-term effect due to the follow-up (Bray, 1995). One particular treatment for children was the Divorce Adjustment Project which investigated the impact of three interventions on 82 children of divorce whose parents had been separated for 9 to 33 months (Stolberg & Garrison, 1985). Children from ages 7-13 were assigned to various support groups ranging from children’s support group condition, to concurrent children’s support, to a single parents’ support group and even a no-treatment support group.
The various parents’ support groups worked to foster adults’ divorce adjustment, provide support and teach skills to facilitate adult development. The children’s groups taught cognitive-behavioral skills to assist children in coping with divorce-related stressors, provided structured peer support, worked to clarify misunderstandings about the divorce and helped the children master developmental tasks that may have been disrupted by divorce (Stolberg, 1994). Within a 5-month follow-up, the children had increased their self-esteem and improved their social skills.