A divorce may be hands down one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Just like the loss of life, a divorce is a loss of a relationship, the loss of stability, and the loss of life as one has known it to be. Consequently, individuals going through a divorce typically experience some or all of what is known as the five stages of grief. These stages include: (1) denial; (2) anger; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance.
In the denial stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce is typically attempting to deny the reality of their situation and begins to develop a false, preferable reality. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically not affected by their parents experiencing the “denial” stage of grief because they believe that the situation is only temporary. Grade school children may be affected in the sense that they will come up with their own “magical” explanation for what they perceive is going on. Teenagers are affected differently in that they tend to want to act as the caretaker for the parent who is experiencing the denial stage.
In the anger stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce recognizes that their sense of denial cannot continue and instead they manifest anger with themselves or with others, especially those who are close to them. Children under the age of 6 years old are significantly affected by their parent(s) experiencing the anger stage because they tend to assume that the anger is directed towards them. Young children especially think that their parents’ issues are their issues too. Grade school children are the most developmentally vulnerable to alienation while their parent(s) are experiencing the anger stage of grief. They tend to form an alignment with one parent. Teenagers are affected in that they tend to identify with the parent who has been wronged in the divorce. Teenagers begin to form their own opinions and may reject the anger by trying to stay away from it.
In the bargaining stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce typically hopes that they can somehow avoid or undo the cause of the grief. This stage of grief has the most differences in its affect on children, based on their age group. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically aware of who is or is no bargaining. They may find it frightening because they perceive the parent, who they are so dependent on, as being weak. School age children, on the other hand, get excited about bargaining because they tend to believe in the chance of reunification. Teenagers try to act as a mediator. Teenagers also tend to distance themselves from the weaker parent and align with the parent who will provide them with what they want.
In the depression stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to understand the certainty of their loss and may become silent and spend much of their time crying and upset. Surprisingly, children under the age of 6 years old are not typically impacted by their parent(s) experiencing depression. Grade school children, however understand it and expect the other parent to “rescue” the depressed parent. Teenagers, on the other hand, perceive their parent’s depression to be dangerous and typically don’t want any part of it.
In the acceptance stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to come to terms with their loss and typically has a more objective view and stable, calm mindset. Children under the age of 6 years old are positively affected by their parent(s) going through the acceptance stage because they sense the hope and positivity. Teenagers, however, want to get the most of their parents who experiencing this newfound positivity and typically seek minimal supervision.
Although not everyone experiences the five stages of divorce (or experiences them in a different order) it is important to remember that how a parent deals with the divorce can have a direct correlation to how the child deals with the divorce, depending on the child’s age.
Contact us today if you are contemplating a separation, curious about the divorce process, or simply want to schedule a consultation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego who represents clients experiencing divorce, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Call 858-793-8884 from all areas of San Diego County, including Encinitas, Escondido, Vista, and beyond.