How family conflict and divorce affects children

by Peter Magee on May 13, 2011

Peter MageeResearchers at the Australian National University have recently conducted a study into the long-term effects on people whose parents divorced when they were children (reported in The Sunday Telegraph 8 May 2011).  The results are disturbing, but not surprising.

Apparently, one in four Australian children experience divorce.  That figure surprised me.  I thought it would be higher, given the divorce rates.

The ANU study found that, in childhood or later life, those children are more likely (than children whose parents have not separated) to:

  • Smoke, including marijuana;
  • Not finish high school;
  • Leave home at a younger age;
  • Have sex before age 16;
  • Have a baby before age 20;
  • Experience relationship problems;
  • Suffer from depression; and
  • Have similar suicidal thoughts.

As reported in The Sunday Telegraph, the study found that family conflict and financial hardship contributed to those long-term disadvantages.  It may well be that such conflict and financial hardship is what caused the parents’ relationship to fail.  However, the process of separation, particularly battling in the Family Court, exacerbates conflict and financial hardship.

As a child of unhappily married parents, I do not advocate conflict-ridden couples staying together for the sake of the children.  Based on my own experience the children suffer, not benefit, from such a decision.

Rather, couples everywhere (even childless ones) need to be educated about the serious detrimental effects of their conflict on their children.  In my experience, children see and hear more parental arguments then the parents would like to believe and can sense the tension in a conflict-ridden household.

If the children’s long-term wellbeing is important to their parents, perhaps seeking relationship counselling when marital difficulties first arise might salvage not only the parents’ relationship but their children’s futures as well.  If that does not prove possible, the parents should try, for the sake of the children, to conduct the separation and to resolve the legal issues arising from it as amicably as possible.

That is always our preference at Armstrong Legal, whenever possible.  It is for that reason that, by the end of 2011, all of our family lawyers will be trained in collaborative law.

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