Children are the unintended victims of high-conflict divorce.

Children are often the unintended victims of high-conflict divorce.

       Children are oftentimes the victims in high conflict divorce.  In the United States, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce.  This figure does not include the breakup of unmarried parents or “paternity” cases. Divorce may seem rather commonplace in today’s world; however, a dissolution of marriage is recognized as one of the most “significant psychosocial crises an individual can experience in their lifetime”.  It is estimated that nearly one-quarter of divorced families experience conflict up to two years after the divorce is finalized. Previously divorce has been viewed as a short-term family crisis. Physicians and therapists have brought to light the need for family court professionals and parents to understand the longitudinal view of the effects of divorce. Parental divorce battles become the new normal for many children and this environment has been likened to living “midst a war zone”. Recently, research has linked Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) with an array of physical and mental disorders in adults.

          Yet not all children who experience high conflict divorce develop significant physical or mental health problems. Evidence suggests that there may be some protective factors that help to insulate children from ACES and support positive outcomes. My mission focuses on providing parents in a high-conflict divorce information and suggestions on ways to insulate their children and minimize the effects/impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

          Nearly 50% of all first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce.  This figure does not include the breakup of unmarried parents or “paternity” cases. While many children adjust quite well to the new family circumstances, 5 – 25% of children experience the negative impacts of ongoing high conflict both during and after divorce. Typically, the initial breakup causes trauma resulting from loss and adjustment for children. A prolonged period of high-conflict exposure can result in a greater risk of unfavorable health, developmental and academic outcomes for these children. Given the high prevalence of divorce in today’s world, there have been many studies that point to the trauma incurred by children exposed to constant conflict.

          Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events in the life of a child. This trauma can include abuse, domestic violence, parental mental illness, and divorce (Crouch et al., 2019). ACEs significantly reprogram the stress-response system and affect the neurological processes of developing children. Research has focused on the relationship between ACEs and long-term mental and physical health concerns such as depression, substance abuse, heart disease, and cancers.

          Divorce is a reality in our world. High conflict divorce dramatically impacts a multitude of families in our communities. When children are not protected from the harsh conflicts between their parents, the children’s health can be impacted for a lifetime.

          Education is an important first step. By educating our community professionals who work with families, we can begin to wrap our arms around the impacts of ACEs and begin to buffer our children against these harmful events. There are many ACEs affecting children that a community can work together to mitigate such as poverty, poor housing, domestic violence, and substance abuse. High conflict divorce is an ACE that is directly linked to the behavior of the children’s parents. Educating parents and arming them with strategies to better guard their children against the conflict of divorce, is an important first step. Teachers, therapists, and court professionals also need to learn how to “lean in” and ask the right questions so that they may begin to assist and reduce the effects of toxic stress on the children.

       One person can change the trajectory of a child’s life. While we hope that person is a parent, it can also be a teacher, coach, counselor, or anyone in the community. Adversity is a fact of life. Resiliency begins when an adult cares enough to provide safety to a child during an adverse event.