It is estimated that over half of all marriages in the United States will
end in divorce. Over the past few decades, most studies on the effects of
divorce have concluded that divorce has adverse effects on children,
adults, and society as a whole. We, as family and consumer sciences
professionals, need to focus on what can be done to help the individual
family members cope with the issues that surround divorce. If we can begin
to accept that divorce is inevitable in a free society, then we may be
able to take the focus from blaming and shaming and begin to focus on
providing resources, information, and support to those who are feeling the
effects of divorce. Then we will make a difference in the lives of the
families that are in a divorce process, whether it be pre-divorce, during
the divorce, or post-divorce.
Despite recent declines of divorce rates, the rate in the U.S. still
remains high. Since the first historical recording of a U.S. divorce in
1890, divorce rates climbed steadily between 1890 and 1970 (with the
exception of the Depression and post-World War II years), rising an
alarming 300% in the late 1970s (this statistic not only includes first
marriage, but subsequent marriages as well). Since the late 1970s, the
divorce rate has been on a very slow decline (Cahn, 2000; Napier &
Whitaker, 1988). In the year 2000, the estimated divorce rate for the U.S.
was 41% per capita (National Vital Statistics System, 2001).
Stages of Divorce
is a process with several stages. Because divorce is process, it could
begin as early as the day a couple marries, and it will continue until the
parties are truly and honestly satisfied with their lives after the legal
divorce (Morgan & Coleman, 2001). Before, during, and after the legal
divorce there are emotional, psychological, community, and economic
stages, as well as a co-parental stage if there are children involved (Goldenberg,
divorcing spouse, whether he or she initiated the divorce or not, will go
through emotional and psychological stages. Emotions may include feelings
of relief in which one party sees this process as a second chance for
happiness. On the other hand, most parties who are going through the
experience express feelings of depression and helplessness. Coping
mechanisms may include clinging to families and friend and/or seeking out
professional help. Some without coping mechanisms might find themselves on
a downhill slide of self-isolation from which they may never recover
a good support system to lean on is a key component to a less stressful
divorce. The community surrounding a divorce is made up of individuals
with many different beliefs and ideas. Family and friends give much needed
support. However, family and friends will have mixed emotions about the
event of the divorce and may not know what to do for the member who is
going through the divorce process. Professional counseling support groups
are essential in helping persons feel more comfortable in talking about
their personal life. However, it is imperative that professionals do not
discount the depth of isolation and depression clients may experience. If
this happens, individual counseling will help counter the loss of
self-esteem that one feels as a result of the divorce (Amato, 2000).
there is a divorce, there are two households instead of just one to
maintain. Financial resources decline and adjustments need to be made to
prevent financial difficulty. In this economic stage, the divorcing couple
may have to seek out financial counseling to help prepare for the changes
in financial condition. The father usually gets the burden of paying child
support or alimony each month and the mother and father usually are forced
to take a second job outside the home to make ends meet. Children become a
resource to help more within the household (Morgan & Coleman, 2001).
parents are concerned about their children in divorce. After a divorce,
parents must accept that they can no longer control the other spouse and
need to focus on their children and their needs (Morgan & Coleman,
2001). The co-parenting stage is a negotiating stage and the more this
stage is simplified, the better the children will adjust and develop.
Divorced mothers and fathers bring into a marriage their own set of
values, beliefs, needs, and attitudes. Because of this, they may share the
same divorce-related events and circumstances, but their perceptual
realities may be quite different.
scholars encourage divorce education and mediation programs. One example
of a divorce education program is the PEACE program (Parents’ Education
About Children’s Emotions). This program is based on social learning
theory and it trains parents in parenting skills and teaches parents about
child development, but mainly focuses on structuring each child’s
environment and seeing the environment from the child’s point of view (MeKenry,
Clark, & Stone, 1999).
divorcing parents find help through the court system itself. Between 1994
and 1998 mandated court-connected divorce education programs had tripled
in number in the U.S. (Kelly, 2000). In these programs, the common
objective is stressing the importance of informing the parents about how
children respond to divorce and to alert the parents to the potential
negative effects of continued high conflict and other harmful behaviors on
children. These programs also educate the parents on positive parenting.
mediation has provided powerful and effective results. The emphasis on
“win-win” rather than adversarial approach provides some sense of
satisfaction to most parties, but with that said, mediation is not for
everyone. If there is a party involved that will not take anything less
than to have it all, then the courts will have to set guidelines for
division of proper and custody (Kelly, 2000). Mediation and divorce
programs will help the parties maintain as much control over their lives
as they can and help each party to receive something positive and
meaningful out of the divorce.
the legal divorce process is over, the parents and children now will face
the effects of post-divorce. The focus is often centered on the parents
and their individual wants and needs rather than family obligations.
Children left to fend for themselves do not know how to cope with the
processes of divorce. Ineffective parental practices, depression, and the
tendency to become anti-social play a major role in the development and
well-being of the children (Simons, Lin, Gordon, Conger, & Lorenz,
1999). This cannot be in the best interest of any child.
support for the whole family is one of the most reliable interventions for
people who are going through or who have gone through divorce proceedings.
Support from informal and formal social support groups can have positive
impact, both directly and indirectly upon the functioning of the parent,
family, and child (Dunst, 2000). One approach that can be taken is
family-centered support. Family-centered practice places families in
central and pivotal roles in decisions and actions involving child,
parent, and family priorities and preferences. Family-centered help is
made most effective by giving both relational and participatory elements.
Relational elements consist of good clinical practice in active listening
and empathy. Other effective strategies include believing in family
competence and capabilities and educating families on how to use their
power and resources.
research has provided convincing evidence that children of divorce tend to
experience more psychological, social, and academic difficulties than do
children living in two-parent families. In the past, family research
treated divorce as an isolated event that affects children only after the
occurrence. Today divorce is viewed as an ongoing multistage process that
may have begun long before the legal divorce and will continue for many
years afterwards. Treating divorce as a process and providing appropriate
interventions at all stages may be the best strategy for family and
consumer sciences professionals dealing with divorcing families.
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