Children of Divorce – Legal and Emotional Issues

Child poverty rates are rising, and there has been some fierce debate in the parliament on this issue. Divorce is one of the greatest factors that has created several generations of unhappy children who have moved into unstable lives themselves.

Legal Issues

Why is divorce such a major legal hassle in the lives of the children concerned? It is bad enough that their family is torn apart and the world that they had grown used to falls to pieces. There are several points over which the parents sometimes tend to fight, and children happen to be one such ‘point’. A common factor noted by several counsellors is the tendency among couples headed for a separation to divide everything between themselves. Children also become classified as ‘property’ and they realize that they are being fought over much in the same way as the ownership of the house, car or lawn mower.

Custody Battles

Under the existing laws of the land, the following types of child custody are awarded to divorced parents.

  • Single Custody with Visitation: By far the most common and accepted form of child custody. Under this system, one parent (the resident parent) keeps the child physically under one roof with him or her. The other parent is granted the rights of keeping in touch with the child (which is why the word ‘contact’ is replacing visitation) through letters, internet, phone and physical visits. The child may be allowed to go out with him or her over the weekend.
  • Single Custody without Visitation: This is a very rare case. A parent may be barred by the court from keeping in touch with the child or granted such rights partially (i.e. he or she may only phone or mail, but not visit the child) if the court finds the parent concerned mentally unfit or of criminal tendencies. This might apply in the case of spouses who have abandoned their families and the divorce is being filed on grounds of desertion.
  • Joint Custody: Here, the parents both take turns in bringing up the child, and the child stays with both families for specified periods of time per year.
  • State Custody: In certain rare cases, the state provides shelter to the child if none of the partners is found fit to bear the responsibility. This is done keeping in mind what is best for the child. It may apply in cases where the spouses have a history of drunken or addicted behaviour, felony, abandonment, vagrancy etc.

Points Fought Over

Below are the legal issues over which parents fight most.

  • Custody Rights: Who gets to keep the child and why? Sometimes, the parents are blinded by hate for each other and the child becomes an unfortunate weapon in their battle. A child always realizes this, and it causes unspeakable pain for him or her.
  • Maintenance Amount: How much money is needed to bring up a child? This question is so nakedly and hotly debated that children are filled with a sense of self-loathing and guilt.
  • Visitation Rights: How much time is ‘enough’ for a parent to keep connected to his or her own offspring? Again, the parents have the tendency to put their egos before the emotional needs of their children.
  • Moving House: This is an issue that is gaining in importance as more parents decide to shift towns, sometimes, even countries to forget the divorce and start afresh. As a result, another parent may be denied the physical bonding with the child, though they may keep in touch through mail, phone etc.

Emotional Toll

The emotional scars of divorce remain in the child’s mind throughout life. Children have a habit of blaming themselves for what is going on and causing more unhappiness to their parents. So they try to punish themselves or escape from the situation. Apart from failing to concentrate on studies, losing sleep or appetite, becoming reclusive, grown-up children take to drugs, drinking, gang activities or vandalism to camouflage the anger and frustration at a situation they are powerless to help. Responsibility for the children should be the greatest factor for a couple about to divorce.