Impact of Divorce on Children

Family breakups can be very damaging to a child's development and long term wellness, but the good news is: it doesn't have to be that way.

Nancy Cameron, Vancouver-based family lawyer, mediator, and author, explains how parental conflict during separation can affect your kids and ways you can protect them from harm. 

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

If a child goes through a situation that causes toxic stress, be it abuse, neglect, or intense exposure to their parents' unhealthy breakup, they're likely having what's called an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). New research shows that if a person has multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences growing up they are more likely to experience problems with their health and wellbeing as  adults. For example, issues like depression, diabetes, coronary disease, health problems, addiction, and homelessness can stem from the stressful experiences people have as kids. For more information about ACEs, see the list of resources below.

Protecting Children from ACEs Caused by Separation

Childhood exposure to parental conflict is one of the most detrimental things your kids can experience when you're going through a separation or divorce.

There are many ways parents can control what they do to help children navigate transitions and reduce the risk of harm. Dr. Lana Besel discusses some of these approaches in Separation and Divorce as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). As well, research shows helping children develop resilience also helps them deal with ACEs like separation and divorce. 

One of the best ways parents can protect their children is by choosing a process for separation or divorce that does not amplify their conflict. 

Reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences with Mediation

Mediation can be a wonderful tool for reducing conflict. It helps parents resolve their issues and also helps them model good problem-solving skills to their children. Many parents find that mediation helps them engage in constructive conflict resolution and helps to de-escalate their conflict. Children benefit from the reduced conflict and also from seeing their parents using constructive problem-solving tools as they work together during and after separation.

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  Separation and Divorce as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) 

This blog post by Dr. Lana Besel, Psychologist and Associate Family Mediator, answers the questions: 

  • What impact does parental separation have on children?
  • What factors seem to increase negative outcomes for children?
  • What can parents do to lessen the impact? and
  • How can mediation help lower the impact of separation/divorce on children?

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Parenting Coordinators
Parenting coordination is a child-focused dispute resolution process for separated families. Parenting coordinators are experienced family law lawyers, counsellors, social workers and psychologists who have special training in mediating and arbitrating parenting disputes, and in helping separated parents recognize the needs of their children.

Child Interviewers
Members of Hear the Child's Child Interviewer Roster are trained, neutral professionals who listen to children and provide written reports of their views to decision-makers and others involved in family law cases where the child’s best interests are being determined. 

Youth Voices Initiative
The long term goal of the Youth Voices Initiative is to support the well-being of youth whose families have experienced separation and divorce.

Building Brains is Group WorkAlberta Family Wellness Initiative: The Brain Story

Learn more about brain health (including risk for physical and mental illness) and how early experiences are built into our brains and bodies.

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I'm really happy to share that we've got lots of control over what we do to help our children navigate [separation and divorce]. Nancy Cameron, QC