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Will divorce cause long-term damage for our children?

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Brother and sister look sad while parents argue in the background.

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. Can divorce ever be a good thing?
2. How can I help my kids through this?
3. Where can I get help?

If you’re considering ending your marriage, you may be wondering how your children will cope in the aftermath. Fortunately, local therapists and research indicate parents can mitigate a lot of damage associated with divorce.

1. CAN DIVORCE EVER BE A GOOD THING?

Unhappily married parents have a much greater chance of creating unhappy children if they remain together, says Randy Heller, a licensed marriage/family therapist and adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University. If children live in a home with prolonged depression, anxiety, impatience, anger, conflict and/or stress, it can manifest in unhealthy behaviors.

“While managing their own dissatisfaction, parents may become hyper-focused on their children, creating a co-dependency. Or conversely, they might begin to neglect their children because they are focused on their own challenges,” she says. “Also, research indicates that children in these environments don’t have good role models for communication, problem-solving and romantic relationships … and they may look outside of their home for emotional support because their family isn’t functioning well.”

2. HOW CAN I HELP MY KIDS THROUGH THIS?

Parents can explore collaborative divorce, a non-adversarial separation that enlists mental health professionals, attorneys and financial professionals to holistically aid the family, Heller says. By working together, parents can settle their matter with less fighting and find support. She also recommends reading “The Good Divorce” by Constance Ahrons.

“A collaborative divorce involves others teaching parents to problem-solve, co-parent and share their children,” she says.

Other ways to help your children are to keep them out of your conflict, not invite them to make decisions and limit negativity. Children see themselves in their parents, so criticizing your spouse means you are criticizing them.

“As the divorce unfolds, that’s when you share your decisions with the kids and only on an as-needed basis,” Heller says. “My belief is that children only want the details they need. They don’t need details regarding the breakup.”

3. WHERE CAN I GET HELP?

If you’re ending a marriage that involves domestic violence, the Family Law Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County offers low-cost or free divorce support. The society also offers a list of attorneys who may assist with any type of divorce on a reduced-fee basis, says Ross Baer, a family law attorney.  

Palm Beach County’s Clerk & Comptroller Office provides a Divorce Workshop Toolbox, a free online tutorial on the legalities of divorce. Second Saturday, based in Boca Raton, offers monthly divorce workshops online that outline local resources. Check for fees.

Heller is a board member for the Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals and a member of the Collaborative Family Law Institute, a community of attorneys specializing in family law, neutral financial professionals and mental health professionals who work together to help couples divorce amicably.

SOURCES:

• Randy Heller, licensed marriage/family therapist; adjunct professor, Nova Southeastern University; board member, Florida Academy of Collaborative Professionals; member, Collaborative Family Law Institute 
• Ross Baer, family law attorney, Family Law Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County
“The Good Divorce” by Constance Ahrons 

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