At samlivsbrudd er skadelig for barn, er noe “alle vet” men som likevel er omstridt mellom forskere. I Norge har f eks familiesosiologen Kari Moxnes etter min oppfatning bidratt til å bagatellisere oppfatningen av skadevirkningene. Se hennes bok “Skånsomme skilsmisser”. Den amerikanske professoren Paul R Amato var nylig i Oslo og la fram resultatene av sin forskning. Disse viser at den samlede virkningen av skilsmisser for barn er klart negative. For å nå flere, er artikkelen skrevet på engelsk , men jeg håper vårt norske publikum også vil ha interesse av å lese den.
Divorce Detrimental to Children
Paul R Amato is a distinguished professor at Pennsylvania State University in USA. September 22nd he gave a lecture at the University of Oslo and answered questions.
Not only professionals had found their way to the auditorium this Tuesday afternoon. Other people with an interest in the field were also there. We can say so, not only because we were there ourselves, but because non-professionals with a stable interest in the field are limited in number, and we know many of them by face.
Was professor Amato to present new and radical views? No, according to the announcement he was to give a general overview of the field. But people with authority sometimes speak more frankly in an oral setting compared to their books and papers. This September Tuesday’s meeting was well worth attending, we think.
In the following we shall present some of the facts and views as we heard them from professor Amato. You will also find our comments, clearly distinguished from our notes on the lecture itself.
Increasing divorce rates — globally
Already high divorce rates grow higher. Divorce rates are increasing, and not only in North America and Europe, but also in Asia and Latin America.
Consequences detrimental to children
The outcomes for children are in general negative. Some children suffer short-term problems, others long-term.
Comment: Between the lines we often hear a sad, but realistic, point recognized: parents’ divorce is seen as a “too early ordeal” for the children. Some overcome the difficulties, possibly strengthened, others just suffer.
The negative outcomes are as follows:
- Children externalize problems (probably aggressive or similar behaviour)
- Children internalize problems (probably depression and similar)
- Children perform poorer academically
- Peer relations suffer (children’s relations to friends)
When children of divorced parents grow up, they still carry the traits of a childhood with extra difficulties. The list of problems is much the same as the above, but a heightened divorce risk and weaker relations to parents add to it.
Is the divorce itself a cause?
Yes, the divorce itself, not only the underlying problems, has a negative impact. Children of divorced parents can be compared to children whose parents have the same risk factors as divorced parents, but did not divorce. Negative consequences are seen in the lives of children whose parents divorced.
Average vs concrete
Even if divorce is detrimental to children, the degree of difficulties varies. The outcome for children does not only depend on their own “too early tested” ability to cope, but also on how the parents handle the divorce and their children in that context.
Divorce gives the children a poorer childhood because of:
- Economic hardship
- Parenting quality (harder job, less resources)
- Loss of relationship to father (fathers “abdicate”, they loose moral authority and don’t talk with their children about difficult matters)
- Feeling caught in the middle (when parent’s fail to handle children’s loyalty to both parents properly)
- Multiple transitions (removals and new partners are quite common)
Mr. Amato suggests education, even just a weekend-course can be quite useful, for parents. In the US courses are offered both for the promotion of healthier marriages and for better parenting if divorced. Attending a course could be made compulsory for divorcing parents.
Some states in the US encourage joint custody. Other states have “the best interest of the child” as the basis for judgments, and some have the “primary parent presumption”.
Professor Amato pointed out that parents can have joint custody regardless of equal or unequal time with the child/children. Time may be divided by 40/60 or even 30/70 and joint custody may also then be feasible.
Joint custody reached by voluntary agreement comes out well for the children. Joint custody imposed by judgment may render problems.
Comment: When comparing joint custody reached voluntary with imposed joint custody, the former, then, obviously comes out best. However when a mother and a father stand against each other in court, and the father claims the court to impose joint custody upon the mother, against her will, and the mother, on the other hand, claims the court to impose maternal custody upon the father, against his will, is there any scientific proof that the one is better for the children than the other? We have yet to see this question answered by researchers.
Judges hate these cases
We asked professor Amato if the problems seen when joint custody is imposed, might not depend on the political and cultural setting the judgments were given in. In other words: isn’t it just as important what politicians say on this matter, as how judges rule? Professor Amato answered somewhat drearily “judges hate these cases”. He later added: politicians tend to step back too.
Comment: This adds to our prior impression that public authorities, including legislators, act too drastically and think too little in child custody. There is “unrefined action” and there is unrefined ideology, which is incongruence.