Separated/Divorced Parents:  What are the True Effects on Children?

Amina Parks, Staff Writer

All parents get into arguments or disagreements. But what if those problems cause a permanent separation between the two parents?

This is an issue that many children in the United States must deal with, as almost one-quarter of them live with one parent and no other adults, reports Stephanie Kramer of Pew Research. In fact, according to Kramer, 23% of children under the age of 18 in the U.S. experience this “more than three times the share of children around the world who do so (7%).”

Having parents who separated at a young age has been an adjustment for me for many years, so I truly understand this issue. For any kid, one of the hardest things to handle is being able to accept that your parents might or might not get back together. As a young child, I dealt with many of the issues and feelings that come with this, including the baggage of having to explain to others my situation of having parents in two different households.  Although many children might experience this during their teenage years, the effects often remain with them throughout adulthood.

Sometimes people get confused by someone having parents who live separately (in different households) and parents who were once together in the same house but then separated. Some children have only known their parents to be in two different households, so that is what those children are accustomed to. However, for the children of parents who divorce, they have to face the new reality of going from having both parents in the same household to having to live with one and share time back-and-forth between two households.  

For children who were born into a two-household situation, adjustments might be easier for them because that is all they know.  In my case, my mom and dad were never married; it was always my mom’s house and my dad’s house.  For children born into a one-household situation that shifts to two through a divorce, the adjustment might be more challenging.  Children in this situation have to adjust to the parents being separated after once being a family unit together in the same household.

Another reality that often accompanies separated or divorced parents is child custody. The determination of whom the child will live with brings with it many emotional moments. It also brings up important related issues, such as when the child gets to see the other parent, a person known as the ¨non-custodial¨ parent. These areas factor into the equation regardless of whether or not the parents were ever married and are for the purpose of making sure the child has a relationship with both parents.

Custody battles can be expensive for parents and cause the child or children in the situation to have to deal with the issue for years. The court or custody battle begins when the parents cannot agree on custody arrangements and can be exacerbated by one parent wanting a court hearing while the other might not. That is when the court has to intervene.

In the article ¨What Are the Alternatives to A Custody Battle?¨ child custody arrangements can either be decided by the parents working together and agreeing or, if they cannot agree, then going to court to have a judge and lawyers work out an agreement that is in the child’sś best interest.  Another article, “Custody Battles Are Expensive,” discusses how going to court for custody arrangements can be an expensive and lengthy process depending on the issues relating to the child and the number of modifications to the court order. In my case, the court order was created when I was about 2 years old and has been modified over the years.  With each modification, there was a cost of at least $3,500.  

There are different alternatives to child custody through the courts.   In “Child Custody Battles: Downsides and Alternatives to Fighting in Court” by Ann O´Connell, she states, “Judges often encourage parents to work together outside of court and will normally approve a negotiated parenting plan that’s fair and in the child’s best interests.¨   However, not every parent cares the same about a child’s best interests.  According to ¨5 Downsides of Child Custody Battles¨ in, the judge considers what is in the best interest of the child after hearing both parents.   

So, are children affected by separated or divorced parents? From my personal experience, yes. I feel that when I was under the age of 8, going back-and-forth between two households was difficult.  Also, not knowing why my parents were not together as some of my other elementary school friends’ parents were was difficult.  However, as I got older, I grew to understand the situation and why it was that way.  My mom helped me to understand and explained matters to me which allowed me to see my situation clearer, still not getting all the answers I wanted. Yet, it was enough for me to feel better about the separation and that it wasn’t my fault.

For kids in my situation, just know that it is not your fault.  Understand that some situations might be better off with divorce or separation, but that doesn’t mean that your love for your parents has to cease.  Whatever your situation, learn from it.  Ask questions.  Try to understand and communicate with both parents, and try to understand that you can get through it because it’s only a temporary feeling for you to think the way you might in a situation like this.