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Children Of Divorce

Posted in Articles,Divorce And Remarriage by Estalyn Thursday May 10, 2007 at about 1:04 pm

A Developmental Approach To Residence And Visitation

By Mitchell A. Baris, Ph.D. and Carla B. Garrity, Ph.D.

Infancy to Two and a Half Years
Developmental Tasks
Infants

  • Build attachment to primary caretaker
  • Form trust in the environment

Toddlers

  • Begin to develop a sense of independence
  • Increased self awareness assisted by emergence of language and locomotion
  • Growing capacity to use symbols for comforting self

Child’s Divorce Issues

  • Feeling of loss of contact with primary caretaking parent
  • Feeling of loss of familiar and comfortable environment
  • Recommendations: Parents Living Close to Each Other
  • Select primary residence based on caretaking history
  • Non-residential parent has short, frequent visits daily depending on availability and caretaking history
  • If dual primary parents, share daytime caretaking, establish one nighttime caretaker Overnights are not recommended

Recommendations: Parents Living Far Apart

  • One parent travels to the residence of the other to enable non-residential parent to have daily short visitation
  • Maintain long-distance relationship (see Appendix C)

Risks

  • Feeling of loss of contact with primary parent results in symptoms of depression and regression (acting younger)
  • Too long a separation from primary caretaker may result in problems with separation and relationship capacity in later stages of development

Two and a Half to Five Years

Developmental Tasks

Continued growth of individuality

Capacity to hold absent parent in mind to comfort self for extended periods

Verbal skills develop for expression of feelings and needs regulation and mastery of emotions and bodily functions

Increasing identification with same-sex parent

Transition difficulties in moving

Child’s Divorce Issues

Magical thinking resulting intense of responsibility for divorce

Anxiety around basic needs being met—feeding, shelter, visitation logistics, and abandonment

Fantasizes intact family and denies divorce

Fantasies and actions relating to reuniting of parents

Transition difficulties in moving between households can be expected

Recommendations: Parents Living Close to Each Other

Time initially distributed in proportion to parent’s direct caretaking prior to divorce

May introduce longer visitation periods for child gradually throughout this stage to a maximum of a split week

Implement overnights for child—1 per week initially, extend to a maximum of 3 per week toward the end of this stage

Long-weekend, short-weekend concept, preferably including a weekday visit, is a possibility if one parent works full time during the week and the other does not

Recommendations: Parents Living Far Apart

One parent travels to the residence area of the other

Child overnights—2 to 3 days maximum

Must have encouragement and help to maintain essential phone and letter contact with absent parent between visits

Carry photographs, transitional objects, and memorabilia of absent parent

Risks

Losing mastery of developmental tasks previously mastered

Loss of opposite-sex parent as socialization agent or loss of same-sex parent as identification model

Experiencing feelings of abandonment may result in sadness, depression, low self-esteem, and interference with development

Carrying power struggles characteristic of this age to later phases of development

Six to Eight Years

Developmental Tasks

Developing peer and community relationships

Moral development

Empathy, greater internal regulation of impulses

Self-concept development around competence and mastery

Child’s Divorce Issues

Prevailing sadness

Direct expression of pain and anger

Fears around money, food, and a place to live

Fear of losing both parents

Self blame manifested by feelings of responsibility and attempts to reunite parents

Recommendations: Parents Living Close to Each Other

Many children still require a home base

Child visits from 1 to 3 days weekly with non-residential parent

OR

Alternating half weeks at each parent’s home if consistent contact with community, peer group, school and extracurricular activities can be maintained

Child could have multiple overnights

Full week at each parent’s home can be phased in toward older end of this stage

Recommendations: Parents Living Far Apart

With history of attachment and involvement with out-of-state parent, child can phase in travel alone for up to two week-long visits (summer, Christmas and spring break)

Distant parent may have frequent week-long visits, including overnights, in the geographic area of the child’s primary residence area if parents’ finances and work schedules permit During these visits maintain the child’s consistent contact with community, peer group, school and extracurricular activities

Child must have permission and help to maintain essential phone and letter contact with absent parent between visits

Visits may be longer (up to 4 weeks) toward older end of stage or if accompanying older sibling and formerly very involved non-residential parent, especially if children are visiting an area in which they have previously resided

Homesickness possible. May need to curtail lengthy visits

Risks

Achievement at school and learning affected

Long-term depression Preoccupation with divorce

Acting out around theme of parents reuniting

Nine to Twelve Years

Developmental Tasks

Proficiency in skill areas: academic, athletic, artistic, community activity

Developing an increased awareness of self, evaluating own strengths and weaknesses as compared to others

Fitting in to the peer-level social order

Child’s Divorce Issues

Empathic understanding of one or both parents with possible intense condemnation for one parent

Demanding adequate adult-level explanations

Aware of own rejection and vulnerability; obvious and sustained feelings of sadness, anger and hurt

Possible sense of shame in community

Recommendations: Parents Living Close to Each Other

One home base with specific evenings, weekends, and activities at the other home scheduled for regularity and predictability

OR

Equal basis with each parent is possible, up to 2 weeks in each residence

Maintain accessibility to school, peers, extracurricular and community involvements from both homes

“Nesting”; both parents moving in and out of same residence is another possibility

Presuming close relationship, summers may be split 50-50 approximately 4 to 6 weeks in one block

Recommendations: Parents Living Far Apart

One home base with one to three weekend visits per month at other home, depending on distance and capacity to travel

Non-residential parent will travel to home base to involve self with teachers, instructors, to attend performances and important events

Half of Christmas break, all of spring break with non-residential parent

If too far for regular weekends, then Thanksgiving and Presidents’ Day weekend with non-residential parent

Presuming close relationship exists, summers may be split 50-50, approximately 4 to 6 weeks in one block

Risks

Academic interference

Possible lying or other deceptive behavior

Forming too close an alliance with one parent against the other

Loneliness, depression, low self-esteem

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