“Staying together for the kids” is not always good for the kids

This article looks at recent studies showing that “staying together for the kids” isn't always good for the kids.

The decision to end a marriage is one that most people do not take lightly and, in many cases, people in unhappy marriages decide to "stay together for the kids." While trying to protect one's children from the pain of a divorce is certainly well-intentioned, a recent study suggests that remaining in a high-conflict marriage may be worse for children than divorce would be. The study is supported by other recent research that suggests that although divorce is painful for children initially, they quickly bounce back from it.

What children of divorce say

A recent study out of the United Kingdom has shone much needed light on how children of divorced parents actually feel about their family's breakup. As the Toronto Star reports, the survey of children and young adults aged 14 to 22 years old and whose parents had divorced found that 82 percent of them said it was better for their parents to divorce rather than to stay in an unhappy marriage.

Those findings are in line with other studies that have found that while the immediate news of a divorce is certainly upsetting for children, in the long run those children are able to adjust to their new lives. As Scientific American reports, a 2002 study by the University of Virginia found that the immediate negative effects of a divorce on children generally wear off by the end of the second year. Furthermore, a 2001 Pennsylvania State University study found little difference between the children of divorced parents and the children of married parents in terms of academic success, emotional wellbeing, behavioural problems, delinquency, and relationships.

A bad marriage is not good for children

In fact, what may be bad for children is staying in a marriage where they are constantly exposed to their parents fighting. Children tend to internalize conflict that occurs within the home and often blame themselves for that conflict. That sense of responsibility can lead to behavioural problems later on.

Of course, a high-conflict divorce can also lead to self-blame among children, especially if the parents continue bickering long after the divorce has been finalized. One potential solution to this problem for many people has been to pursue divorce paths, such as mediation and collaboration, that may be able to keep the conflict to a minimum.

Family law advice

Divorce is never an easy process, but staying in a bad marriage is rarely the right solution. While it is difficult to break the news of a divorce to one's children, it is important to keep in mind that children are often better off in the long run seeing their parents make a new start in life rather than witnessing them staying in a high-conflict marriage. To help minimize the potential for conflict during a divorce, a family lawyer may be able to help. An experienced lawyer can help guide clients through the divorce process and help them deal with disagreements and issues that may arise in an effective and proactive manner.