National TV Network news agencies are working on stories based on reports that children of divorce fare worse in school than others. USA Today just printed a story about poorer math scores for children of divorce (click here for the link).
As a divorce lawyer this concerns me greatly. My opinion, based purely on my experience and the experience of the other lawyers in our office and friends throughout the bar, is that it is not necessarily the divorce that can harm children, as much as the kind of divorce that occurs. Certainly a ‘good” divorce between two mature adults might be better for children than a really bad marriage with much tension (or even violence) in the household every minute of the day?
There is life after divorce and the way the process of divorce unfolds may well set the tone, not just for how the parties interact going forward, but how the children do in school and in life. Children that see two parents who treat each other with respect, even if they are divorced will likely do better than children who see their parents consistently embroiled in arguments and litigation. Those children must, at the least, be very distracted by their parents’ tension. Worse yet, many may feel that they (the children) have a duty to support each parent and to comfort them (or at least one). This must take time away from school work and social development.
So what’s the solution? A “good” divorce (if a divorce is going to happen). The parents must recognize that their tension always trickles down and is felt by, and affects their children. There is an old Jewish saying that the best thing a father can do for a child is to love their mother. Well if he can’t love her, he should at least treat her with respect and pleasantness, and it should go both ways. Not for the parents’ sake, but to allow their children to continue to grow socially and educationally and to not be distracted and held back by their perceived need to be a “cructh” or support system for their parents. Such a feeling of having to help a parent through a divorce can certainly not help a child spend the needed time to excel in school and socially.
I know that I am not a psychologist and that these words and thoughts are just those of a lawyer who has practiced family law for almost a quarter of a century, but I believe them to be true and hope lawyers and litigants consider these issues as they proceed through their family law cases each day.