Ending a marriage is not a one-time event that occurs in a courthouse, it is a process. As well, the effects that divorce has on the families involved are of the utmost importance, especially in regards to the children. Both the short-term and long-term effects that divorce has on children are incredibly significant, and few would stand to argue that children are not incredibly affected by divorce. Although the greatest focus of divorce's effect on children is most certainly put towards regards to the first weeks and months following the divorce, the reality is that the long-term effects are often times the most critical. In order to come to a clearer and more knowledgeable understanding on this subject matter, the issue of divorce itself must be thoroughly addressed, as well as the key elements in relation to it. The aim of this paper is to discuss the events and phases of divorce, and the effect that divorce has on children. This is what will be dissertated in the following.
Divorce is an intensely stressful experience for all children, regardless of their age or developmental level; however, statistics show that is especially hard the younger the children are during the time of the divorce. There are many reasons for this, one of the most primary being that during the younger years of their lives, family is all the children really have to rely on; they do not have friends to help relieve their stress and they have no one to talk to or to express themselves to. "A study in 1980 found that less than 10% of children had support from adults other than relatives during the acute phase of the divorce." (Eleoff, 2003). This leaves them with a feeling of helplessness and loneliness, and issues like this are supremely relevant and must not be neglected or ignored. The pain which is experienced by children at the beginning of a divorce is composed of many things, such as: a sense of vulnerability as the family disintegrates; a grief reaction to the loss of the intact family (many children do not realize that their parents' marriage is troubled at all to begin with); loss of the non-custodial parent; a feeling of intense anger at the disruption of the family; and strong feelings of powerlessness - to name a few.
It is especially difficult for younger children during the situation of divorce, in that it is harder for them to deal with the sudden onset of life change, and the neglect they often times begin to feel. The developmental considerations in response of the children are significantly more severe in regards to the younger children: preschool children (ages 3 - 5) are likely to exhibit a regression of the most recent developmental milestone achieved. Additionally, sleep disturbances and an exacerbated fear of separation from the custodial parent are common. There is usually a great deal of yearning for the non-custodial parent. During early latency (ages 6 - 8) children often openly grieve for the departed parent. There is a noted preoccupation with fantasies that distinguishes the reactions of this age group. Children have replacement fantasies, or fantasies that their parents will happily reunite in the not-so-distant future. Also, children in this developmental stage have an especially difficult time with the concept of the permanence of the divorce. During late latency (ages 8 - 11) children experience severe feelings of anger and
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