Children caught in a Divorce

Kids more often than not become the scapegoat in a divorce. Either the parent is releasing their anger on them or using them to get back at the other parent. Instead of making a joint effort to help their children, parents usually make it a fight for sole custody. Sometimes spouses get so caught up in resentment and vengeance that they forget the fragile emotional state of their child and use them as weapons to obtain unfair demands.Unless a parent is emotionally or physically abusive to the child or negligent and exploitative,  both the parents should have equal rights. It will help to let of their ego and hurt and concentrate on the welfare of the child. Many a times the sole custody battle is so expensive that parents use up all the savings in child custody. Who loses in the midst of all this? CHILDREN.  More often than not it is the money that could have been spent on child’s future that they end up wasting on a custody battle, when not required.

Emotional Effects of Divorce.

Children feel that it is their fault that the parents have divorced. It is very important to tell them as they grow up that it isn’t their fault. EFT is a gentle tool and the parents can use it on their children to tell them that they are loved in spite of the separation. Grown up children also show the same shock, grief and feeling of abandonment as their younger counterparts, even though their ability to comprehend is much more than younger children.

Children feel powerless to stop the divorce. It becomes acute when they have limited contact with one parent.
Feeling of loss of one parent for preschoolers between ages 3-5 is acute. In art therapy and role plays children play out themes of loss. They have fear of loss.  They may cling to their parents due to fear. They may regress to infantile habits and get more aggressive and stubborn in school. If the parents bicker in front of them then the affect is even more.
Usually there is a feeling of loss of father as the children are usually with their mother. They feel that as if they have been left out by their father and at times they feel insecure as new relationships spring up in their mother’s lives. And usually these are the kids who get abused by their step fathers as mothers do not have that much control over abusive step fathers.

According to Mullen et al (1993), the presence of a stepfather in the home doubles the risk for girls, not only for abuse by the stepfather but also by other men before the arrival of the stepfather in the home.    Diana Russell in her book  ‘The secret Trauma’ (1986) says , after a divorce when a woman remarries the step daughters are at greater risk of being abused by their step fathers than their biological fathers.

Mothers can prevent abuse of their child by step fathers by sharing joint custody with their spouses (as research indicates that mothers, with sole custody,  in new relationships are unable to stop abuse of kids by the step fathers) . Joint custody can also prevent the need for one parent to become dominant in his/her decisions in raising the child and unwittingly taking hasty and improper decisions regarding the child.
Frequent separation and reconciliation of parents can be more traumatic than a clean break.
How can you help your child during Divorce?
Unless your spouse is doing bodily or emotional harm to the child, both of you should be involved in raising your child.  Don’t let your feelings of anger, hostility or hurt deny the children their rights to be with your spouse.  Children deserve both parents. Infrequently one parent may not want to see his/her child otherwise mostly both parents are equally attached to their kids.
The spouses who have not initiated divorce usually take the vengeance route which is very bad for the child. They forget that their child is attached to their father or mother and impose their vengeful restrictions on the child.  They forget that a child is not a property to be kept only with one parent. Children deserve nurture equally from both the parents.

The following would help the children
Deal with your own emotional baggage concerning divorce.
Do not disappear completely from their lives.
Chalk out a clear visitation routine.
Do not force children into visitations.
Do not force children to stop meeting their father or mother.
Do not tell bad or hurtful things about your spouse to them.
Be clear that the child isn’t being abused by a parent.
Deal very gently with them.
Do not threaten or coerce them when they are stubborn.
Give them time to adjust to the changes.
Fill the shoes of one parent rather than trying to play the role of both parents.
If the children show the effects of divorce even after 6 months of divorce then take them to a professional for help.


Mullen et al (1993), Childhood sexual abuse and mental health in adult life. Br .J. Psychiatry 163:721- 732.


About Puja

I am a Counseling Psychologist, Certified EFT Practitioner & Accredited EFT master Trainer of Trainers with EFTi. In my 15+ years of experience, I have effectively used EFT and Counseling to help clients heal their emotional and physical problems.
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5 Responses to Children caught in a Divorce

  1. West Lake says:

    What you have is very good reading. I usually read marriage/relationship matter at

  2. Saumitra Verma says:

    good article , very informative

  3. Nancy pollock says:

    Hmm – in a perfect world – when the parents love the children equally – or if they say they d0 – then they should NOT initiate a divorce in the first place. If the child is the most important piece of thier lives then – the best would be for them to stick it out through thick and thin and stay together until the child reaches a mature age. Again ideally children need both the parents under one roof…having two homes and shuttling between homes does have its implications too… all is easy in a world where there is just black and white – everything is changed when there is a grey! so differnt situations, differnt views and differnt perspective – but you are right – the sufferers at the end for adult ego issues are little children and thier innocent lives!~ I wish the no one ever has to endure this … I’d take a bullet before i let a loved one in my family go through this!

    • Puja says:

      Hi Nancy .
      Thanks for your comments.
      Yes I agree that everything is not black and white and couples should stay through thick and thin –
      But NOT initiating a divorce is not a solution because thick and thin looks good only on paper!

      First of all we do not live in a perfect world and things and people can never be perfect. In marriages things DO go wrong for both men and women and when it is imperative to initiate divorce then one must do it in order to prevent the children from being the witnesses to the acts of emotional and physical violence, adultery, harassment or insanity(the grounds for divorce).

      Being a psychologist, I can say with authority that children do suffer in a divorce but they suffer NO LESS in fact more at times, in a marriage where parents are emotionally abusive with each other. Many people are abusive to their spouses and their spouses put up with that, thinking that they’d rather suffer than separate (a motto ingrained in our blood). The fact is that the children of these parents grow up in a household full of broken promises, bickering, anger, hurt, guilt, shame and betrayal. They carry the scars of all these emotions internally.

      If a spouse is ready to take a bullet rather than let a loved one go through this, then they should have thought of their children before committing abusive acts, harassment or adultery; they should be willing to be non-selfish and non-abusive, non-adulterous etc for the sake of their children because taking a bullet seems much tougher than doing the above. However, it is not so in reality. They do not think of their children when they engage in harassment, adultery and emotional violence with their spouses, they think ONLY of themselves. And when reality comes crashing down on their heads that they are responsible for the marriage falling apart and that their spouses have initiated the divorce, they refuse to take the responsibility of their actions and rectify the situation.

      If the divorce is inevitable and many a times it is, then it doesn’t matter WHO has initiated the divorce, but what matters is that the initiator or the non-initiator should NOT use children to get back at their spouses.
      (please note: I’m not talking about divorces that happen due to a spouse snoring or other trivial things like that)

      Waiting to take divorce till the children grow up is not a good idea even though it looks like one. Younger children are more resilient and the divorce trauma usually lessens with age. But when they are old enough to comprehend stuff then they are more affected and may resort to drugs etc to release their inner frustrations.

      Shuttling between homes in joint custody for a child may seem like a bad idea but not giving children access to both parents equally when they need them or are attached to them seems like CRUELTY. Also subjecting a child to witnessing hidden and non-hidden acts of emotional abuse and adultery, under the same roof, seems like cruelty in subterfuge.

      If parents think that they can lie and be deceitful to their children about their relationships with their spouses, that just by being together they can show the calm on the surface and hide the raging sea of distrust, anger and hurt underneath it, then they are wrong. Children are much more perceptive than we think them to be.

      In my opinion, in every situation a marriage CANNOT work. And when it doesn’t, then accept the inevitable and work towards your child’s future. And in my opinion if both the parents are reasonable when it comes to their child then they can achieve this. If they act and think like parents instead of husband and wife, then clarity will come. Tough but not impossible!

  4. Puja says:

    I have counselled many adults whose parents got divorced when they were young (adult survivors of divorce) and also many adult survivors of abusive household (non-divorced parents) and in comparison the survivors of divorce seem to be better off. Of course there are many variables in this and they must be taken into account. The age, family background, support of grandparents, financial security etc.

    Nonetheless, the survivors of divorce seem to be better equipped to handle relationships than the adult survivors of abusive households. Seeing parents fight and bicker and be adulterous has a devastating affect on the children. Children who know that their parents are divorced and had reasons for it are better at understanding the complexities of relationships compared to survivors of abusive households who have very low self esteem, loathe themselves, are afraid of relationships(as they have seen the damage that their parents did to each other, in front of their eyes), get attracted to relationships where they get abused as that seems more safe and normal than normal relationships, they grow up thinking that LOVE and ABUSE are synonymous especially when it comes to women survivors of abusive households.

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