For many years, divorce lawyers have told their clients to try to shelter their children from the arguments they have with their ex. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the most important is the theory that children can suffer long-lasting emotional damage from being caught up in fights between their parents.
Recent research supports this theory. According to a study published in the journal Child Development, children develop a fear of abandonment after they are exposed to bickering between their parents in divorce. What’s more, this fear created lingering problems for the children’s mental health.
Interviews with kids
Researchers based their research on interviews with 560 children between the ages of 9 and 19. Researchers also talked to parents and teachers. The study found that children who reported feeling caught in the middle of their parents’ arguments were more likely to fear abandonment, and that these children were more likely to report mental health problems 11 months later.
These findings held up even in cases involving children who had parents who were otherwise generally good. Researchers said this suggests even conscientious parents who are trying to protect their children from the fallout of divorce can nonetheless slip up from time to time.
Divorce can bring out bitterness, resentment and other unpleasant emotions. It can be hard to avoid letting these feelings spill over into the rest of one’s life and relationships, including those with children.
Perhaps the best way to avoid unnecessarily troubling children with these emotions is prevent them from getting out of hand in the first place. Many people choose mediation and other alternative dispute resolution techniques to settle issues of property division and child custody in a way that is less adversarial than traditional litigation. Even in a more adversarial approach, a good lawyer can protect clients from some of the worst parts of the process so that they can concentrate on helping their children and rebuilding their lives.