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Why is parental divorce an “adverse childhood experience?” 

On Behalf of | Jul 18, 2022 | Family Law |

As a parent in California, you may have heard the term “adverse childhood experience” or ACE. California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has made recognizing and responding to ACEs a priority. Her goal is to “reduce ACEs and toxic stress by half in one generation.” 

Adverse childhood experiences are divided into three categories:

  • Abuse (physical, emotional and sexual)
  • Neglect (physical and emotional)
  • Household challenges

That last one includes witnessing domestic violence, parental incarceration and drug abuse. It also includes parental separation and divorce.

Parental break-up typically isn’t nearly as damaging as any of these other experiences. However, if not handled well, it can have negative short- and long-term effects for the children caught in the middle.

The emotional strain of parental break-up

Children experience a number of significant changes when their parents go their separate ways. Some are unavoidable. Others can be avoided or at least minimized. When parents break up:

  • A child feels uncertain about their own future – possibly for the first time if they’re very young.
  • A child may see less or very little of one parent as well as one entire side of their family.
  • One or both parents may be under economic strain following the break-up.
  • If their parents get new partners, there is an increased risk of abuse.
  • A rancorous divorce can expose the child to arguing, bitterness and anger.

Of course, many kids are relieved when their parents finally divorce if it seemed like all they did was fight or ignore each other when they were together. That can be extremely unhealthy as well. 

Every child has a different level of coping skills, and every child displays different signs of stress and anxiety. Even siblings can experience their parents’ divorce very differently. That’s why it’s important to watch your children for changes in their behavior. 

If parents can end their marriage relatively amicably, negotiate agreements that are fair to both sides and make a commitment to co-parenting with a focus on the best interests of their child, they can minimize the adverse effects of their break-up on their children. Having a well-crafted custody agreement and parenting plan can help provide a solid foundation for co-parenting.