According to Stephen Ross, PsyD, HSPP, a child’s psychological reaction to their parents’ divorce varies in degree, depending upon the following three factors.

  1. The quality of their relationship with each of their parents before the separation
  2. The intensity and duration of the parental conflict
  3. The parents’ ability to focus on the needs of children throughout their divorce

According to Ross, “The key component of these three aspects is that the parents do everything they can to make decisions during the divorce process which are intended to enhance the quality of life for their children rather than trying to punish the other parent.”

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Ross states that such punishment may take the form of “intended or unintended derogatory comments made within earshot of the child.” He says that, “Even subtle nonverbal cues can send a message to a child, e.g. smirking when speaking about the other parent. Children are quite astute in reading nonverbal cues.”

Gary Direnfeld, a marriage and family therapist and recognized expert on parent-child relations and child development, agrees: “The greater the conflict between the parents, the greater the risk for a poor outcome for the child. The degree to which parents can find reasonable solutions to their differences, the children are better off.”


About Mark Baer & Jeremy Kossen

Mark BaerMark Baer is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution consultant. He has decades of experience in family law and has crafted a reputation within the industry for his psychologically-minded and child-centered approach.

Mark is also a well-known writer and columnist for a number of publications on the interplay between psychology and conflict resolution within the field of family law, as well as familial and interpersonal relationships in general. He has had a regular “Psychology and Family Law” column in the San Gabriel Valley Psychological Association’s award-winning bimonthly newsletter since 2008. A member of Psychology Today’s expert community, Mark also has a blog column titled “Empathy and Relationships: Fostering Genuine Open-Mindedness.” He is also a HuffPost Blogger and a number of those blog articles have been referenced in books, law review articles, by evidence-based public policy think tanks, and elsewhere. Mark has written extensively for a number of other publications, as well. His material has been used and shared by law school professors, and by some of the highest ranked dispute resolution organizations in the country, such as the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University School of Law and the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program at Harvard Law School.

He has also presented on several occasions at the California Psychological Association Convention, the American Bar Association Section of Family Law CLE Conference, and the Southern California Mediation Association Conference, among other such organizations.