ABSTRACT

More than 1 million children a year experience parental divorce or separation. Having become increasingly aware of children's reactions to divorce, social scientists have made many attempts since the 1960s to study the impact of divorce on children (for recent reviews see Chase-Lansdale & Hetherington, 1990; Emery, 1988; Hetherington, 1989). It can be stated with some certainty that when compared to children of intact families, children of divorced parents function on a lower level on various psychological, social, and cognitive measures (see Amato & Keith, 1991, for a recent review). Still, it cannot be stated with certainty that divorce has any single, broad-reaching and long-lasting effect on children. It is also uncertain what factors associated with the divorce experience account for the divorce effects. Findings to date remain inconsistent, often contradicting, and overall equivocal. Situational variables such as socioeconomic, support systems, parenting, and family relationships account for some of the variables; others are accounted for by the personal characteristics of age, gender, and temperament. A child's developmental stage appears to be the most significant single factor (Amato & Keith, 1991) among all these variables in determining the nature of much of his or her response to parental divorce. Therefore, as other writers have done before (e.g., Kaslow & Schwartz, 1987; Roseby, 1985), this chapter examines the major findings in the research literature in the context of children's developmental stages.