Most children of a divorce do not suffer long-term emotional injury

As observed in an article recently published in the Huffington Post, thoughtful parents of children who are contemplating a divorce usually have significant fears as to how the divorce will ultimately affect their children. Concerns range from whether the children will hate them to whether it will affect their grades in school. Divorce is a common occurrence in New York and, indeed, across the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that, by the age of 16, close to one-half of all adolescents will have seen their mother and father divorce. Approximately 15 percent of adolescents will have experienced divorce twice.

The New York Handbook on Parent Education for Separating or Divorcing Parents ("NY Parenting Handbook") advises that separation and divorce do have significant changes on children's lives. Some of the common changes that children may experience are: (1) less availability of one parent; (2) a decrease in the standard of living; (3) changes in residence, schools, neighborhood and friends; and (4) a parent's re-marriage and adjustment to new family members.

Today's Parent magazine advises that young children, such as preschoolers, are often frightened, angry and emotionally distraught over a divorce. This may be expressed by clinginess, anxiety, sleeplessness or general irritability. For teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the end of their parents' marriage is often an emotional event similar to experiencing a death in the family. Teens can be subjected to feelings of anger and depression upon the announcement of a divorce. Divorce is the fourth-leading cause of stress in adolescents.

It is observed in the NY Parenting Handbook that there will often be short-term emotional problems for many children experiencing divorce. However, it is not inevitable that there will be long term emotional and behavioral problems caused by a separation or divorce. The majority of children whose parents separate or divorce do not end up having long-term behavioral problems. This observation is borne out by scholarly research.

An article published in the Scientific American explains that the research thus far indicates that long-term negative effects of divorce on children are minimal and "the vast majority of children endure divorce well." Citing studies conducted by prominent sociologists such as Paul R. Amato, it is noted that scientific research does not support the view that short-term emotional and behavioral problems suffered by the children of a divorce will last into adulthood. Indeed, the research findings suggest that only about 15 percent of the children of divorce will have lasting emotional problems extending into their adulthood.

Cooperating on custody

As explained in the NY Parenting Handbook, there are two ways to resolve child custody issues in New York: through negotiation or by litigation. Negotiation is preferred since the parents will be engaged in a cooperative effort to reach a settlement instead of litigating contentiously in front of a court. A negotiated custody agreement is possible so long as parents are willing to focus on resolving issues in a constructive and positive manner while putting the interests of their children first. If parents cooperate to ensure that their children have a loving and nurturing environment, the chances of the children developing long-term emotional problems are greatly decreased.

Seeking legal advice

If you are contemplating a divorce and suspect that custody will be a contentious issue, you should contact a New York attorney experienced in handling custody matters. An attorney will be willing to work with you in order to negotiate a custody settlement that will protect your interests and those of your child.