DIVORCE and its Effects On Children

– By the ‘Social Worker’

The effects of divorce on children can be devastating and painful. Most divorcing couples are so engrossed in their own anger and bitterness that they forget about the consequences of how they treat their soon to be divorced ex-spouse or how they continue to malign them in front of their children who often feel loyalty to both parents. These children are often manipulated and used by their parents as weapons in the process of divorce. The stress that this causes to the children can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, delinquent behaviour and teenage pregnancy in girls. Sometimes children caught in this hostile situation even attempt suicide. The children could develop attention and concentration problems, anger, sleep disorders, bed wetting and bowl problems.

Older children of parents who are divorcing usually blame themselves and think it could be their fault that this is happening. These children need psychological help to understand that their guilt feelings have nothing to do with the conflict between their parents. A good therapist can help to work through their feelings of guilt and restore their self-esteem and any harmful thoughts or behaviour that they may have as a result of the devastating effects of the divorce.

Parents should remember that they are divorcing each other and not their children. Very often, fathers would remarry and minimise contact with children who are innocent and helpless. Likewise, many mothers use their children as weapons and refuse to allow fathers to have access and visitation rights.

Psychologists admit that divorce is necessary in cases where children are exposed to violence or physical, emotional or sexual abuse that cannot be resolved by therapy. In these cases the children survive and thrive due to the divorce. They are saved from a harmful environment.

Individual, group and family therapy can help these children to express themselves and move on. The good news is that children exposed to an amicable divorce are more balanced and nurturing and go on to choose partners that have loving relationships with them with minimum strife and conflict.

New evidence indicate that when children have a hard time during the divorce phase, boys and girls suffer equally. Boys are however, more externally symptomatic than girls. They act out their anger, frustration and hurt. They may get into trouble at school; fight more with peers and parents. Girls tend to internalize their distress. They may become depressed, develop headaches or stomach aches and have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. A child’s continued involvement with both parents allows for realistic and better balanced future relationships.

In a typical positive situation where mothers have custody of the children, fathers continue to be involved in their children’s lives. These fathers ensure that child support is paid timeously and that contributions are made towards extra-mural expenses for the child.

One important contributing factor to the quality and quantity of the involvement of the father in the child’s life is the mother’s attitude towards the child’s relationship with him. Parents must remember that their children should not become the injured victim of a divorce. Children have two parents and they should be allowed to have a relationship with both of them during and after the divorce.

Interesting recent statistics by the South African Race Relations show that only a third of children in South Africa are growing up living with both parents: 98000 children live in child-headed households, 81% of who have a living mother.  9 million children are growing up with absent mothers and living fathers. The proportions of divorces from the mixed and black-African groups have been increasing, whilst that of the white group has been declining in the past ten years. In 2010, data on 22 936 divorces from civil marriages were processed, indicating a decrease off 7 827 or 25, 4% from the 30 736 cases processed in 2009. The distribution of couples divorcing by population group shows that the highest proportion of divorces between 2001 and 2007 came from the white population group whereas 23, 1% came from the black- African group. However, from2008 to 2010, the pattern changed. The black-African population exhibited the highest proportion of divorces followed by the white population group. Thus 35, 6% of the 2010 proportion of the coloured and the Indian/Asian groups were quite variable during the ten year period.


Divorce in Islam is usually the last option after all means of re-conciliation has failed. Divorce is allowed in Islam as a sign of lenience and the practical nature of the Islamic Legal system. The emphasis is on keeping the unity of the family. Family preservation and  keeping the family together are considered a priority for the sake of the children. For this reason, divorce is always a last choice after exhausting every possible means of reconciliation.

In Surah 4 verse 9, Allah addresses men asking them to try their best to keep the marriage harmonious, even if they dislike their wives. It states in the Holy Quran:

“Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about it a great deal of good”.


I appeal to our divorcing or divorced parents to not have their bitterness; anger and hostility blind them from respecting a child’s rights. In terms of section 7(b) (1)(ii) of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, the attitude of the parents or any specific parent must take the following factors into consideration:

  1. The rights of the child.
  2. The exercise of the parental responsibility and rights in respect of the child.

The objects of this Act are:

(a)    To promote the preservation and strengthening of families.

(b)   To give effect to the constitutional rights of children, namely, family care or parental care or appropriate alternative care when removed from a family environment.

It is important for parents to realise that a divorce or breakup is painful because it presents not just the loss of a relationship, but also a shared dream and expectations. During a divorce everything is disrupted. Children feel scared and uncertain; they experience insecurity and loss of the family environment and financial security. They need to be gently introduced into the separation with minimal effects, and given the security that even though their parents are separating, they still have both parents. Children should not be used as pawns and weapons during the divorce with little or no regard to their feelings and rights. Finally parents , Please think before you act .

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