SAN DIEGO, August 21, 2017 – When a couple is weighing the difficult decision to get divorced, the issue usually causing the most concern is how the breakup of their marriage might affect their children.
A new study by scientists at two universities in Spain looked at the effects of divorce on the physical and emotional health of children, as well as the parents. It was no surprise to find out divorce has a significant impact on all family members no matter what their age. The surprise came when scientists discovered children aren’t necessarily hurt by the divorce itself, but the way their parents handle the breakup.
Researcher Maria Dolores Seijo Martinez at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) and her colleagues studied 467 children ages two to 18 in families where parents were together, and where parents were divorced. They found children of separated or divorced parents have twice the risk of developing common stress-related type health problems: stomach ailments, skin issues or neurological issues such as headaches. They were not at risk for developing respiratory, cardiovascular, hearing or sight problems, or allergies.
Where there were high levels of conflict between the parents including violence, poor co-parenting and poor communication, there was a significant link to physical or emotional ailments.
“Poor handling involves very high levels of interparental conflict, which makes it very difficult to maintain a good relationship. If children are exposed to these family situations for prolonged periods, they often experience toxic stress,” said Seijo Martinez.
This study is reinforced by an American study in 2012 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which found that divorce or any adversity in a child’s life doesn’t necessarily hurt children, if parents support and help their children through the adjustment to their new circumstances.
The bottom line: it’s not your divorce, it’s your bad behavior as adults toward each other and toward your kids causing problems. If you have a marriage riddled with conflict, loud arguments, and hostility in the home, your kids feel it, and they internalize it. The stress and the self-blame kids often engage in causes the problems. This is true whether you’re married, or whether you’re in the middle of a divorce.
When couples agree they will cooperate as parents and treat each other kindly, it spares children the exposure to the toxic stress hurting them.
My advice as a family law attorney: whether or not you’re getting divorced isn’t the real issue. Whether the divorce will improve the stressful behavior your children are exposed to should be the reason for the decision.
Many divorces bring a sense of relief and calm tense situations down. People who aren’t compatible and in constant conflict can help their children through a divorce if it creates a more harmonious home and more positive parenting.
“We need to support families in order to reduce these consequences. Professionals in direct contact with children, such as primary care workers or school staff, have a very important role in reducing toxic stress, as they are in a position to design and implement new interventions oriented towards protection and prevention,” Seijo Martínez concludes.
It’s smart to work with a divorce coach or a child specialist who can guide you as parents to set the stage for healthy relationships moving forward. Most family law attorneys can refer you to qualified professionals who support the legal process of divorce with psychological support for every member of the family.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
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