1.21The ecological perspective entails a recognition that divorce is a process that unfolds over time, and that the parties may be at different stages in the process. The particular stage of the legal process is not necessarily reflected in the concurrent psychological stage of the spouses, and more importantly, the children. Indeed, each parent may be at different stages in the psychological process with, for example, one parent denying there is a problem and refusing to accept the need for a divorce, and the other parent hostile. It is submitted that the best way to look at divorce is through a holistic model which embraces both the legal and psychological processes and the ecological perspective mentioned above.
Impact of divorce on children
1.22The research literature has found that the majority of spouses involved in difficult divorces temporarily become less adequate and can abandon their parental role.21
“There is general agreement that marital hostility is a disturbing force that can affect children’s emotional well-being and alter parent-child relationships. Many would argue that where serious discord exists, separation or divorce is not in the best interests of all family members. Marital dissolution is not without its own consequences.22 Children often react to divorce with feelings of anger, terror or guilt. They grieve for the lost parent and fear further losses and catastrophies.23 Helping children cope with dramatic changes in the family is an important task for the custodial parent. To this responsibility is added personal adjustment, shifts in family roles and household routines, and an overload in terms of economic burden.”24
1.23There are social and financial consequences to divorce. An additional pressure for a parent who may not be coping in the short term with a divorce is the pressure of handling children on whom the psychological effect is even greater. The majority of children show clear indications of distress and disruption.25 They are more likely to experience external problems such as aggression or disobedience. They also experience internal feelings of fear, blame, lower self esteem, depression and insecurity.26
1.24Conflict arising out of divorce can affect children’s functioning at school.27 They may be more likely to use psychiatric and other mental health
21 Isaacs et al, “Social networks, divorce and adjustment; A tale of three generations”. Journal of Divorce, vol. 9, (1986), 1-16.
22 Honing, “Stress and coping in children (part 1)” Young Children, 41(4), (1986), 50-63.
23 Wallerstein, “Children of divorce; Stress and developmental tasks”. In Garmezy & Rutter (eds) Stress, coping and development of children (1983).
24 Garbarino et al, Children and Families in the Social Environment, (1992, 2nd ed.) at 155-6.
25 Hetherington, “Coping with family transitions; Winners, losers and survivors”, Child Development, 60, 1-14, (1989) in Irving and Benjamin, supra at 58.
26 Wallerstein, supra.
27 Bisnaire, Fireston & Rynard, “Factors associated with academic achievement in children following parental separation”, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (1990), 60, 67-76.