The Impact of Divorce on Parents’ and Children’s Mental Health

The Impact of Divorce on Parents’ and Children’s Mental Health

The Impact of Divorce on Parents’ and Children’s Mental Health 1800 1200 Alfred Ip

There are a lot of reasons for marriage to end in divorce, some of which are more emotional and dramatic than others, such as infidelity, domestic abuse or desertion. It is not only difficult for the innocent party to deal with the issues, it is also difficult to adjust to the new life after separation, especially when it involves raising the children alone.

Most people find themselves lost on how to move forward from such loss and rebuild a new life. For some people divorce is a relief which helps to close a dissatisfying chapter of our lives. For others, the breakup of the relationship and the divorce give a huge level of psychological distress that prevents from moving on.

Mental distress and public health concerns

Divorce can be linked to specific and long-term impacts on health and overall mental well-being. Extensive research shows that almost half of individuals experiencing separation and divorce report levels of mental distress high enough to be at risk of leading to depression. Additionally, similar studies show that it normally takes about two-years for someone who has gone through separation and divorce to get back into a normal psychological situation. Men are particularly at risk. Other studies have shown a correlation between relationship breakdowns and suicide, and research has found that the risk of suicide amongst divorced men was almost three times that of married men. The impact of separation and divorce is even greater on children, especially considering the rates of divorce in developed countries.

Divorce is becoming more common in Hong Kong. According to the Census and Statistics Department, the number of divorces has been increasing continuously, with the crude divorce rate at 2.34 per 1,000 population in recent years, more than double that seen in the early 90’s. This is reflected with the increase of number of family judges at the Family Court dealing with ever increasing number of cases.

Specific impact on children

Parental separation and divorce certainly affect the lives of the children, sometimes leading to child and adolescent adjustment problems such as social discomfort, learning difficulties, disruptive behaviours, risky sexual behaviour and even depression. One of the common traits is often linked to the fact that children experience disaffection with the parent they spend less time with. Naturally when the main caregiver is emotionally stressed, his or her children would inevitably suffer.

For some children the toughest thing is not related to the separation from one parent, but from the aggravations connected to changing neighbourhoods or schools, moving to a new home, and living with a single parent who feels the additional pressure resulting from divorce. This is particularly the case when they are stuck in the middle between two parents who are in the middle of a highly acrimonious divorce.

Financial hardships are also common following divorce. When one family is split into two, the living expenses would definitely become higher if not doubled, especially in Hong Kong when costs of accommodation is one of the highest in world. Many families are forced to move to smaller homes or different neighbourhoods and they often end up having a lower disposable income, leading to compromise in living standard.

Even though divorce is generally a difficult and stressful experience, staying together for the sole sake of the children may not be the best option. Children who live in homes where parents frequently argue or where hostility and discontentment are part of their daily lives may be at a higher risk for developing mental health issues and behaviour problems.

Individual therapy may be of great help for both parents and children, while family therapy may also be recommended to address changes in family dynamics. Sometimes support groups can let children meet and share experiences with other children of similar age groups who may be experiencing similar situations and find a great level of relief and consolation.

Custody disputes

Children custody disagreements can result in rather emotionally draining situations. One of the most common circumstances involves married parents who separate and during the divorce proceedings cannot reach an agreement about where and how their children should live. In other cases, a marriage or relationship breaks down even before a child is born and parents must negotiate custody without the benefit of a shared history of parenting. Custody disputes also can surface years after a break-up, e.g. when a parent relocates – as we have already addressed in our previous article “Children Custody in Relocation Cases” – or when an adolescent wants to modify living arrangements, or parents have issues with a problematic child.

We generally encourage our clients to make solid efforts to reach a smooth agreement and settlement regarding children custody disputes through pragmatism, good-faith negotiation, and alternative dispute resolution. In our view, divorce is not putting an end of a relationship for couple with children, it is a transition from one relationship (marriage) to another (parenting partners). Private settlement of custody disputes indeed reduce conflict and set the tone for a more cooperative ongoing relationships between co-parents. Naturally it can also facilitate positive relationships between children and both of their parents.

The role of a Co-parenting Coordinator

In some cases, a “Co-parenting Coordinator” can be a role that helps to get to a positive outcome for all parties involved, as he/she is a neutral third party who serves a separated or divorced couple as a decision maker and a facilitator of communication. The ideal co-parenting coordinator is someone who will guide parents to learn to work effectively with their ex-spouse and their children and will help the parents not only find solutions on immediate issues but also establish a method by which they can learn how to resolve future issues by themselves.

Co-parenting coordinators, who are trained and skilled in helping couples in divorce, serve as an impartial third party to listen to and resolve problems related to a variety of aspects – e.g. education choices and extra-curricular activities, non-emergency medical care, visitation arrangements and holidays, etc… They also help the parents to learn how to communicate with each other in a pragmatic manner. Many couples find co-parenting coordinators helpful in transitioning their roles from husband and wife to co-parenting partners, focusing their goal on the children’s interest instead of their own.

Our team at Hugill & Ip has extensive experience in dealing with Hong Kong family laws – so kindly get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and readers should not regard this article as a substitute for detailed advice in individual instances.

Alfred Ip

Alfred Ip

Alfred assists high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in handling their wealth-related issues, such as contentious and non-contentious trust and probate, mental capacity, family office, amongst other wealth management matters. He is also a leading Dispute Resolution lawyer with over 20 years of experience in Hong Kong. Moreover, Alfred helps clients with issues regarding Family Law.

All articles by : Alfred Ip
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