Today, parental separation and divorce are common occurrences. While separation can sometimes be a better option for a couple, it’s always difficult when there are children involved.
While a peaceful separation or divorce can still have many challenges for families with children, it’s acrimonious separation or divorce that can be the most harmful.
What exactly is acrimonious divorce?
With this type of divorce, one partner has typically treated the other so badly that reconciliation is not worthy of consideration. Acrimonious divorce often involves conflict and verbal, mental or physical abuse. Let’s take a look at how acrimonious divorce affects children:
- Problems with transitory adjustment
Many children who have been through acrimonious divorce experience transitory symptoms, which can include excessive worrying, sadness, anger, strained social relationships, and poor academic performance. These signs and symptoms can occur when a child first learns that his or her parents intend to divorce, when the parents argue a lot, when the parents separate, or when the child experiences significant life shifts, like moving to a new neighbourhood.
- Internalised chronic stress
If external stressors such as high conflict between parents continue for a long time, the child’s symptoms may become internalised and develop into more serious mental conditions. Often, the symptoms take the form of an anxiety disorder, depression, or a somatic symptom disorder.
A loyalty conflict occurs when a child tries to maintain a positive relationship with both parents despite their disagreements. The child’s loyalty conflict becomes more intense the more parental conflict there is. This can cause a lot of stress and discomfort for young children.
A serious result of a high-conflict divorce is parental alienation. This is a mental condition in which a child allies with parent A and rejects to have a relationship with parent B. Parental alienation is considered a maladaptive outcome of extreme loyalty conflict.
The good news
Sadly, divorce is very common, and children of divorced parents are known to be more likely to suffer from a variety of negative outcomes. The good news, though, is that by providing a secure and loving home, parents can reduce these risks. As always, don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s pediatrician, family therapist, or other healthcare provider if you have questions about your child’s emotional or mental health.