When deciding whether to file for a divorce, people will weigh the pros and cons of a divorce. Should I stay or should I go? Parents who are considering divorce can have higher stakes than a childless couple. Not only do they have to make the best decision for themselves, but also the right decision for their children. Here are three negative effects divorce can have on children for you to think about.
1. The Children Will Spend Less Time with Each Parent.
Anytime someone makes the decision to file for divorce, they need to understand that they are also making a conscious decision to see their children less. Sounds harsh, right? But unfortunately, it is the truth. Parents that are not divorced have the opportunity to spend every night with their children. However, once you separate with your spouse, your spouse will get some time independent of your time with the children (except in exceptional circumstances). Every minute that your spouse spends with your child is a minute that you will not get to spend with your child. Whether we like it or not, it is a zero-sum game. Regardless of whether you receive every other weekend, week-on week-off, your spouse receives every other weekend, or whatever arrangement you may have, it will be less than you had before.
There can be a silver lining to this if you let it. Assuming that you become the primary parent and the other parent sees the child every other weekend, this weekend off can give you the opportunity to let your guard down and relax. Being a parent can be tough. In order to be the best parent you can be, you have to take care of yourself as well – especially during and after an emotional time like a divorce. When your children are with the other parent, you can be yourself and don’t have to be “mom” or “dad.” You can go hiking, go have a weekend with your friends, get caught up at work, or even go on a date. This weekend or time away can allow you to recharge your batteries.
Parents must adjust to their own losses as well as to their new role as a divorced parent. Thus, parents may not have as much emotional strength and time to invest in parenting, i.e., the parents experience a “moratorium on parenting.” Although laws are gradually changing, most children spend more time with one custodial parent and obviously have less time with each parent overall. For most children, this means much less time spent with their fathers. The child may also spend less time with their mother as she may need to work longer hours to support the family.
2. The Children May Have Less Financial Stability.
When parties divorce, the children go from living in one household with two earners to living in two households with two earners. The bills will go up substantially since there will be two rents that need paid, two power bills, two water bills, etc. but the income will remain the same. This results in less disposable income that can be spent on your children. In 2009, children living with a divorced parent were more likely to live in a household below the poverty level (28%) compared with other children (19%). US Census Bureau. 2011. “Divorce Rates Highest in the South, Lowest in the Northeast” – United States Census Bureau Reports. Also see “The Impact of Family Structure on the Health of Children: Effects of Divorce” by Jane Anderson (The Linacre Quarterly, 2014).
Because there will be less disposable income, many parents will respond by working more hours to compensate. This in turn results in less time being spent with your children. People can use the time that the other parent has the children to work the extra hours, but depending on your custody schedule, this may not be a possibility.
There is a possibility – in many cases, a reality – that a divorced parent will remarry or at least find a new significant other to help with household expenses to bring back the status quo of two income earners. However, that new significant other may also have children in another household in which his/her child support must help support that household. There still will be gap in which the children are living in a household with only one income earner. In “A generation at risk: Growing up in an era of family upheaval” by P.R. Amato and A. Booth (Harvard University Press, 1997), the researchers concluded that even five years after the divorce, mothers who remain single have only risen to 94% of their pre-divorce income, while continuously married couples have increased their income.
3. A Child May Lose Valuable Relationships.
The reality of spending less time with parents is that they will spend less time with the grandparents and other extended family as well. When a father/mother is relegated to every other weekend, the grandparents of that parent are also given a smaller window of time with the children. Every other weekend parents are put in a tough conundrum where they need to spend as much time as possible with their children during their weekend, but they also have to work on maintaining a relationship between their parents and the children. This waters down the valuable time that the every other weekend parent gets to spend with their children.
Unfortunately, divorce can cause parents to move. When married, the parties may can afford a large house in the suburbs in the nice school district. But once divorced, the custodial parent may need to move to a more affordable school district now that they have only one income to support their children. This change in residence can lead to a loss of friends that the children have developed at school over many years. It can also disrupt which sports teams they play on. The children they play soccer with after a divorce may be different than the children they play soccer with before the divorce.
The children may miss out on some family traditions on holidays. For example, If every year, you go Christmas Day at the children’s grandparents, you may not be able to do that now. The Judge may order that the other parent receives Christmas Day each year and you receive Christmas Eve. Hopefully, your family can rearrange the Christmas schedule to accommodate you and your children but sometimes families are too large to fit everyone’s schedule. Christmas is one of the few times of the year that extended family gets together and has the opportunity to spend time with your children. Courts normally split and divide each of the major holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter so this can still leave other times for your extended family to see your children. On a related note, you are unlikely to have Christmas morning with Santa Claus each and every year. This is likely to be rotated every other year.
These are just three cons you may not have thought about. There can also be benefits to divorce as well. In deciding whether or not divorce is the right decision for you and your children, consider both the pros and the cons.
Sam Bone is a Gadsden, Alabama lawyer who practices in the areas of divorce, custody, and criminal defense. In 2015, the National Trial Lawyers Association selected Sam as one of the “Top 40 Lawyers under 40”. www.danibone.com.