The effect of separating spouses on children is a highly discussed consequence of divorce. As a previous post mentioned, some researchers conclude divorce can actually be better for children, because divorcing parents find themselves living a happier, less stressful life after splitting with their former spouse. Judith Wallerstein, a famous divorce researcher, took on a slightly more complicated conclusion as to the effects of divorce on children. Sadly, this dedicated researcher recently passed away.
Wallerstein found that many of the children, even more than a decade after their parents divorced, remained somewhat distressed later on into life. However, Wallerstein did not merely blame divorce for years of distress. She instead concluded that open conflict between parents caused the discomfort and unhappiness in children. Thankfully, there are a variety of divorce options so that a couple can choose what will work best for them. Mediation and collaborative divorce are often less contentious and adversarial divorce options.
In mediation, a neutral professional oversees the parties' divorce discussions. Many divorcing couples prefer this setting to the adversarial nature of a courtroom. A more collaborative effort at divorce can sometimes also make home life during the separation much more manageable.
This was not always Wallerstein's position on divorce. Initially she concluded the consequences of divorce were harsh on children and did not publicly consider how a less contentious divorce process and subsequent happy home might have a different and more positive effect on children. Feminists often chastised Wallerstein's research, stating that her conclusions made it difficult for women to consider divorce, even when in an extremely unhappy and sometimes unsafe marriage. Most researchers never backed Wallerstein's conclusions that divorce had very harsh consequences on children.
However, Wallerstein softened her position over time. She recently wrote, "a divorce undertaken thoughtfully and realistically can teach children how to confront serious life problems with compassion, wisdom and appropriate action."
Source: New York Times, "Judith S. Wallerstein, Psychologist Who Analyzed Divorce, Dies at 90," Denise Grady, June 20, 2012