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Helping children cope with high-conflict divorces

Mar 10, 2020 | Firm News

Although avoiding high-conflict divorces and afterwards with a coparent may not always be possible, divorcing parents in West Virginia should make an effort to ensure that their children develop healthy coping skills. A study of 240 children over a six-year period identified certain coping methods that were particularly helpful.

The study divided the children into three groups based on the kind of conflict their parents had during the divorce. Almost two-thirds experienced low conflict that lessened over the first year and then stabilized. Nearly one-third experienced high conflict at first, but it decreased over the year and reached the low-conflict level of the first group. The remaining 9% experienced high conflict in the first year that worsened over the remaining years.

The study also examined three different coping mechanisms. Avoidant coping meant the children avoided the thing that upset them. With cognitive restructuring, they told themselves things will be okay. With problem-focused coping, they tried to change their behavior or work around problems. Children who practiced problem-focused coping experienced fewer mood or anxiety problems. Children who used cognitive restructuring experienced fewer mood and anxiety problems as well as fewer behavior problems, such as delinquency. Most children do not suffer long-lasting effects because of divorce, but those who are exposed to conflict, and high conflict in particular, may need support.

Reaching an agreement about child custody can be a challenging part of a divorce. Emotions may run high, but parents may be able to negotiate an agreement outside of court with the help of their attorneys by focusing on the best interests of the child. Even in high-conflict divorces, courts usually proceed from the position that it is in the best interests of the child to have contact with both parents as long as the child is not unsafe with one parent.