The Child-Parent Relationship After High-Conflict Divorce

You’ve made the decision to divorce. Considered the economic and financial repercussions of that decision. But have you considered what it will mean for the child-parent relationship after high-conflict divorce?

For some parents, divorce is the only way they can see out of a marriage filled with bitter battles, resentment, blame, and perhaps even active dislike. For them, divorce is a necessary evil that will give them a chance to create a happier life – and perhaps a second chance at finding love. But what does that mean for the child-parent relationship after high-conflict divorce?

Well, life is not that simple, especially when you have a child from the marriage. It is not easy for a kid to cope with the separation of his parents while he is growing up. Since children have an impressionable mind, a painful event like his parents’ high-conflict divorce can leave permanent emotional scars.

A report suggests that nearly half of the children (50%) in the US are likely to witness divorce of their parents. It also reveals that half of those kids will also see the breakup of their parent’s second marriage. The statistics are saddening, but one out of every ten children in the US is likely to witness three or more subsequent parental marriage breakups.

High-conflict divorces have a significant impact on a child’s academic performance, his emotional state, his health and even his behavior. A child who has lived through his parents’ difficult divorce is more likely to suffer from poor health, receive poor grades in his class and encounter suicidal thoughts more than children whose parents are happily married.

[Ed. note: However, the prognosis for the child is much better if the parents handle divorce in a respectful, civilized manner, and create a parenting plan that allows the child ample access to both parents post-divorce. Recent studies show that it is ongoing conflict between parents – not the divorce itself – that is so damaging to children.]

Now if you think divorce solely affects the child, then you may be wrong. It affects the relationship between the child and his or her parents the most. Even if someone gets custody of the child, it is, needless to say, that things no longer remain the same in some child-parent relationships after the divorce happens.

Here are 3 issues that may arise in the child-parent relationship after a high-conflict divorce.

1. Children grow more distant from their parents after divorce.

After the separation, the primary custody of the child usually goes to one parent – although shared parenting is becoming the norm for cooperative co-parents. So, while one gets to stay near him, the other has to live apart from the child. In the child’s growing years, the separation can make him more distant from one of his parents both physically and emotionally.

If someone remains out of sight, they slowly start to fade out of mind. However, it’s more complicated in the case of a divorce. Most of the time, a marriage ends on bitter terms, and that is why one of the parents may decide to move out of town, even if they have a kid together. This is one of the instances of how a parent grows distant from his/her child after divorce.

In some cases, it’s the anger of one or both parents that cause a child to become distant from one of his parents. It is not rare to see a single parent with a grudge against his/her former partner, even after the divorce. Often, the animosity translates into the upbringing he/she provides to the child.

When a child sees his mother blaming the father for every unfortunate incident, he starts to think the same way. And since the father is not there to present his side of the story, the distance between the child and his father grows wider. This can lead to parental alienation.

2. Children lose respect for their parents.

A bitter divorce often breaks children emotionally. In their growing years, when their parents’ arguments escalate into constant warfare ending in divorce, the children could see their parents as irresponsible, selfish – or they might conclude that their parents hated each other more than they loved their children.

A child usually feels depressed when he longer has his father around and watches his mother cry herself to sleep. It is never easy for the children to go through this phase. But it does not take much time for the depression to turn into anger.

It creates a negative image of the parents in the child’s mind if one or both of his parents start missing school functions – or attending those functions and getting into a public fight in front of the child. Small things like this fuel the repressed rage that a child develops after the hostile divorce of his parents.

Also, children often cannot accept a second marriage of their parents. They not only develop disrespect for the person the parent is married to, but also for both of his biological parents when he sees his parents involved in a romantic relationship with someone else.

As a parent, it becomes necessary for you to talk to your kid about the divorce and learn how he feels about the whole thing. If a child does not share his feeling about the breakup of his parents, it can induce behavioral changes in him. Most of the high school bullies have divorced parents, and to cope with the fact, they unleash their anger on unrelated things.

3. Children lose respect for marriage.

Children generally look up to their parents for inspiration. And when a bad marriage ends in a bad divorce, the children could lose respect for not just the parents but also for the institution of marriage itself. Divorce often comes as a shock to the children, and by the time a kid starts to realize what is going on with his parents, half his childhood years are already over.

Divorce may help end an unhealthy marriage between two people, but to a child, it ends the only marriage that matters to him. When a kid grows up believing there is no value in a commitment, marriage appears as a lie to them. No wonder some people are so afraid of commitment.

Kids with divorced parents often grow up believing that marriages are supposed to end in divorce. It is one of the major reasons they often disapprove of the second marriages of their parents. When they see what divorce does to people from up close, they develop a negative opinion about marriage as a whole.

Consider Therapy – for the Child and/or the Family

A bitter divorce affects the psyche of a child, so parents should consider taking their children to therapy during and after the divorce. [Ed. note: Therapy is a safe space for children to express their thoughts and feelings and ask questions without fear of hurting or angering their parents. A therapist can also alert parents if he/she believes the child poses a danger to himself or others.]

One cannot deny the fact that divorce does affect the dynamics of the parent-child relationship to a great extent. People often believe that getting a divorce after the kids are grown up may have less impact on the child, but studies show that adult children struggled to cope with the divorce of their parents even when they are in their late 20s.

If divorcing parents are really concerned about their children’s welfare, they should meet with a parenting expert to help create a plan that is best for the kids and works for the parents – who may need to develop co-parenting skills to separate their feelings about their ex-spouse with their role as co-parents.

The bottom line is that kids need both parents in their lives in order to grow into emotionally healthy adults. There are some roles that suit the father, and there are some things that mother can handle better. If a kid does not have his father around when he needs assignment help for a school project, it may not seem like a big deal. But for the kid, small things can be as damaging as some of the more obvious mistakes divorced parents make while trying to hurt their ex-spouse.

Ava Smith is a subject matter expert at, currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of West Australia. Apart from her job in the assignment help organization, she loves writing about people in her leisure time.

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