Although in the long term effects of divorce appear to be minimal in the short term, there are a number of ‘adjustments’ that both children and parents have to undergo to move through this change.  Improving the mother-child relationship resulted in improved coping strategies in children of divorced parents (Velez et al, 2011). Working with children with recently separated parents also requires an understanding of attachment theory, adjustment disorders, parental rights, legal requirements and cultural contexts.  Assisting parents as they try to develop access plans ‘in the best interests of the child’ is a complex process and often a cause of distress for therapists when parents attempt to draw you into their battles.

“Is separation from the main carer for infants and toddlers in overnight visits damaging?” is a question I am asked in therapy.  There are a number of factors to consider when answering this question including ‘(i) the parenting history of the child; (ii) the attachment history between the infant and each parent; (iii) ways to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses of each parent’s skills and parent-child interactions across different daytime and night-time domains; (iv) the temperament of the child; (v) communication between the parents; and (vi) care of the child by a caregiver or caregivers other than the parents’ (Strous, 2011).  Strous argues that overnight access visits may not be in the best interests of children under 3 years of age however, a case by case investigation should occur.  Accessing the latest research to guide your answers is important as well as looking at current guidelines produced by your professions advisory body such as the Australian Psychological Society can assist you to provide the ‘best practice’ recommendations.  

To summarise, therapy initially to assist with any psychological distress can benefit some children to adjust but working with families in distress requires a good understanding of legal, cultural and developmental concerns.

 

Angarne-Lindberg T, Wadsby M. (2009) Divorce, mental health and life events. Nord J Psychiatry,

63:32 43.

 

Strous, M. (2011) Overnights and overkill: post-divorce contact for infants and

Toddlers, South African Journal of Psychology, 41(2), 196-206

 

Velez, C. , Wolchik, S., Tein, J. & Sandler, I. (2011). Protecting Children From the Consequences of Divorce: A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Parenting on Children’s Coping Processes. Child Development, 82, 1, 244–257.