The Process The divorce process can be a stressful and conflict-ridden time. Any
antagonistic or abusive pathology that has previously existed is likely to escalate during and immediately after divorce proceedings, increasing the threat of harm to the children. Divorce and custody proceedings are often accompanied by destructive and adversarial—even abusive—behavioral
patterns. The initial phases of divorce and separation are the most dangerous for domestic violence victims. Divorce tends to bring out the worst in partners.
From a legal standpoint, divorce is enacted on a specific date; however, the ending of a marriage typically stretches over several years. As both a public and a private process, divorce is a crisis-producing event. It involves the death of a relationship, and as with most deaths, pain and crisis are common by-products. Although both suffer immensely, generally the man is affected most negatively in the sociopsychological sphere and the woman in the economic.
The divorce process typically follows a four-stage sequence. The first stage is the period before separation, sometimes referred to as the emotional divorce or the erosion of love, which conjures up feelings of anger, disillusionment, and detachment. The second stage is the point of actual separation, which often is accompanied by bargaining tactics, sadness, regret, and depression. The third stage, the period between the separation and the legal divorce, involves legal issues, economic readjustments, continued mourning, coparenting arrangements, reorientation of lifestyle, and a focus on one’s own identity and emotional functioning. The fourth and final stage of personal recovery includes a restructuring and restabilizing of lives, opening up to new possibilities and goals. This time may include a “second- adolescence” phase of being single and being involved in the dating scene again.
The emotions people experience in the four stages of a divorce are like the emotions experienced during the stages of coming to grips with the death and dying of a spouse. Although the marriage has ended, the two individuals are still alive, however, and their relationship with their children has not ended, keeping them involved with each other after the divorce.
The Effects on Children It is no surprise that parents’ conflictual relationships negatively impact
children. In fact, divorce is a very common adverse childhood experience (ACE) that has long-term effects (Felitti et al. 2019). Divorce is reported to diminish psychosocial well-being in children. This diminished well-being tends to result in negative academic achievement (Potter 2010). Yu et al. (2010) found that marital conflict and divorce can affect the quality of the relationship between the mother and her children. The negative effect on
children’s development begins early, at the “in-divorce” stage according to Kim (2011). Afifi, Schrodt, and McManus (2009) discovered that children were emotionally affected by the fact that their parents talked negatively to their children about their divorced spouse. Children of divorce also experience more behavioral problems (Weaver and Shofield 2015).
There are factors other than divorce, however, that contribute to greater problems for children of divorce. For example, Vousoura et al. (2012) warn about the overall level of psychopathology in the family prior to divorce as a stronger contributor to childhood depression than divorce. Some research suggests that the economic effects of divorce have a greater effect on childhood mental illness than the disruption of divorce (Auersperg et al. 2019; Strohschein 2012).
We acknowledge that when there is a high level of violence in the home, divorce sometimes saves lives and the well-being of children. All things being equal, however, we believe children need and deserve to grow up in a family with two parents who love them and who love each other. Research on two-parent families documents the positive advantage this arrangement gives to children (Waite and Gallager 2000; Haskins 2013; Wilcox 2014). Since divorce hurts the relationship between parents and kids, it must always be a drastic last resort. Children must be a priority so we can protect them and provide the attention they need when divorce does occur. The covenant commitment extends to our children, a biblical truth that corresponds to the finding that when children experience a positive attachment with their parents, they have fewer adjustment problems and adjust better at each phase of their parents’ divorce and eventual remarriage.