Can Contested Divorce Affect Your Child’s Health?
By: M. Scott Gordon
When parents remain in an unhappy and contentious marriage, or when parents finally decide to file for divorce in Chicago but end up in heated disputes over property division and parental responsibilities, how are the kids affected? According to a recent article in Newsweek, your child’s physical health actually can be impacted by a bitter relationship with your spouse. For a long time, experts have emphasized that divorce can have many psychological effects upon children, but it has not always been clear how a child’s physical health is impacted by divorce. Now, as the article suggests, disputed divorce proceedings might actually take a toll on your children’s immune systems. What else do you need to know about this research?
New Study Suggests that Children’s Physical Well-Being May Be Tied to Bitter Divorce
The Newsweek article discusses a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, research from Carnegie Mellon University “linked a factor of separation to increased odds of catching a cold in adults whose parents divorced or separated when they were children.” Such a conclusion might sound odd. However, “psychologists have long suggested children whose parents are divorced or separated are prone to several psychological effects and outcomes due to the drastic changes in their household structure, including depression, anxiousness, poorer grades, struggles with trust others, and even increased health risks.” As such, it should not come as too much of a surprise that divorce can also affect a child’s physical health.
What is surprising about the recent study, however, is that it ties divorce during childhood to health during adulthood. In other words, children who are affected by divorce can experience physical impacts years and even decades later when they are adults, according to the researchers.
Factors Related to Divorce Rather than the Fact of the Divorce Itself
It is important to note that it is not simply divorce that can result in physical health risks to children. While divorce can affect a child’s psychological well-being, the researchers involved in the Carnegie Mellon study underscore that “it’s not really necessarily about the divorce per se.” Instead, as one of the authors of the study explained, “there seem to be factors related to divorce, such as how well parents can communicate regarding their child following divorce, that seems to be better predictors of outcomes.” To be clear, it is not simply that a child’s parents get divorced that can correlate to physical health issues. Instead, it is the way in which the divorce is handled.
When parents go through a bitter divorce, the physical health of children appears to be impacted.
Persistent Stressful Life Experiences Can Increase Risk of Future Illness
To conduct the study, the researchers took 201 adults and split them into three different groups: 1) those whose parents had remained married during their childhoods, 2) those whose parents either had been separated or divorced during their childhoods but remained on speaking terms and in relatively good standing, and 3) those whose parents either had been separated or divorced during their childhoods and went through contested divorce proceedings.
The authors of the study found that, when a child experiences psychological stress (especially the children in the third group mentioned above), that psychological stress can harm the immune system. And the effects are not only temporary. To be sure, those children who experienced psychological stress and weakened immune systems during childhood continued to experience some of those effects through adulthood. What is the lesson to take away from the study? According to one of the authors, “there’s good evidence that stressful life experiences,” such as a bitter divorce, “especially when they’re persistent over a long period of time, can do things to our physiology that increase risk of future illness.”
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