What follows are some excerpts from The Custody Evaluation Handbook by Barry Bricklin, Ph.D. In the Handbook, Dr. Bricklin makes some interesting observations of various custody and family-interaction studies that have been done.
A great many of the studies cited appear to indicate that, in general, divorce is harder on boys than girls, and that boys suffer more profound and longer lasting negative psychological effects.
Some of the notes presented here refer to a study begun in 1970 by J. S. Wallerstein that observed children of divorce over an extended period of time. Follow-up data were gathered at 18 months, 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years.
"...Children who were preschoolers (ages two and a half to almost six) at the time of parental separation initially seemed the most disturbed of any age groups under study (Wallerstein, 1984). At the 18-month follow-up, nearly half of the preschoolers were more disturbed than they had been initially, with boys significantly more disturbed than girls. However, by the 10-year follow-up, children who were preschoolers at the time of the divorce were functioning adequately (Wallerstein, 1984, 1991).
Children in early latency (five and a half through seven years old) initially responded to parental separation with extreme pain and sadness, and experienced great difficulty finding relief for their distress (Kelly & Wallerstein, 1976). Later latency-age children (eight to 10 years old) initially seemed more poised than younger children (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1976). They were energetically intent on the mastering of their fears and emotions (through play and fantasy) in order to achieve a sense of coherence. However, they experienced intense anger and a shaken sense of identity. By the one-year follow-up, responses to parental separation had become less intense, with anger the most enduring response. Half of the children were more disturbed than they had been initially.
"At five years postdivorce, a follow-up of all the children revealed a strong relationship between the psychological adjustment of the child and the quality of life within the family (Wallerstein, 1991). A nurturant postdivorce or remarried family environment and positive family relationships were significant, while age at the time of separation and gender were not. At the 10-year follow-up, the children who had been older during the initial assessment were plagued by adjustment problems (Wallerstein 1984,1991). At 15 years post-divorce, Wallerstein (1991) was finding her subjects involved in resolving the issues surrounding heterosexual relationships." (Pg. 27)
(Okay, so it seems pretty clear that divorce is emotionally devastating to children in general. As it turns out, girls fare much better than boys in divorce, from start to finish. As we'll see, the Handbook examines some postdivorce issues by gender, of which some examples follow. -Ed)
"...Hetherington's (1989) cluster analysis of her results yielded three times as many boys as girls in the maladaptive, aggressive-insecure cluster described above (see Effects of Divorce) ... It was hypothesized that the children's increasing responsibilities following divorce had a positive effect on girls that was cancelled out for boys by the maternal custody factor (i.e., problematic mother-son relationship and father absence)." (Pg. 36)
"...The question of preexisting conditions is raised in prospective studies, which report conflicting findings concerning gender differences. For example, three studies (Block, Block, & Gjerde, 1986; Cherlin, Furstenberg, Chase-Lansdale, Kiernan, Robins, Morrison, & Teitler, 1991; Neighbors, Forehand, & Armistead, 1992) reported that boys' academic and/or behavioral adjustment problems predated parental separation and that girls were less affected by predivorce stressors. However, in another prospective study (Shaw, Emery, & Tuer, 1993), boys and girls did not differ in predivorce adjustment problems, but boys had more adjustment problems than girls following divorce.
Another prospective study included four marital status groups- divorced/nonremarried, divorced/remarried, always harmonious, disharmonious (Jenkins & Smith, 1993). Behavior change from predivorce to postdivorce status was assessed. There was a slight increase in the emotional and behavioral problems of boys in the divorced/nonremarried group. When averaged (pre- and postdivorce) scores were analyzed, boys were significantly more behaviorally disturbed than girls. Children's self-reports of emotional and behavioral disturbance were highest for boys in the divorced/nonremarried group."
"...Although there is a need to account for many other variables that may mediate children's adjustment following divorce, studies to date suggest that boys in maternal custody may do less well in their adjustment and in their relationships with their mothers than girls in maternal custody. However, girls may be less well adjusted than boys in father custody families and in stepfather families. Differences in adjustment between the sexes may diminish in adolescence and, in late adolescence and young adulthood, girls may experience more adjustment problems than boys." (Pg. 37)
"...Statistically controlling for income reduced significant differences between children of divorce and those from intact families, lending some support to the economic disadvantage explanation. Remarriage of custodial mothers (with improved financial status) did not improve their children's well-being as hypothesized. This finding does not support the economic disadvantage hypothesis. It was hypothesized that the father's generally higher income would ameliorate the effects of economic disadvantage that is often the case in the maternal custody arrangement. Father custody children were higher in all outcomes (academic achievement and adjustment) than those in mother custody families. Although this supports the economic disadvantage hypothesis, there were significant interactions with gender, where boys in mother custody families did more poorly than girls, while girls in father custody were less well adjusted than boys. (In contrast to these findings, a 1981 study by Kurdek et al. failed to find children of opposite-sex custodial parents less well adjusted than those of same-sex parents.) Overall, the economic disadvantage hypothesis received limited support." (Pg. 32)
"...In Hetherington's Virginia Longitudinal Study (1979, 1989), boys continued to have adjustment problems and problems in relationships with their mothers two years after divorce. Boys from divorced families versus boys from intact families were more noncompliant, antisocial, coercive at home and school, acted out more, and had more problems with academic achievement and peer relationships. In contrast, girls from divorced, nonremarried families had positive relationships with custodial mothers and were functioning well. At the six-year follow-up, mother-son relationships were problematic, while mother-daughter relationships were untroubled except in early maturing girls or families with high levels of conflict." (Pg. 36)
(This would seem to say that the typical mother-custody situation appears to be a more difficult road developmentally for boys than girls. -Ed.)
"...Preadolescent, early adolescent, and midadolescent children from divorced and intact families were compared on measures of internalizing and externalizing problems and cognitive and social competence (Forehand, Neighbors, & Wierson, 1991). Boys were more likely to be less competent and have internalizing problems than girls at preadolescence, and to have fewer problems and be more competent, relative to girls, by midadolescence. That is, for girls, there is an increase in internalizing and externalizing problems and a decrease in cognitive competence from preadolescence to midadolescence." (Pg. 34)
"...The following are findings from more recent research that focuses exclusively on the divorce adjustment of adolescents. Good parent-adolescent relationships had a buffering effect on adolescent boys (Wierson, Forehand, & Thomas, 1989). That is, the adolescents with good relationships with both parents were functioning significantly better than those with poor relationships with their parents. Similarly, positive father-adolescent relationships were associated with lower levels of internal psychopathology in adolescents, while poor father-adolescent relationships were associated with adolescents' higher levels of external psychopathology (Thomas & Forehand, 1993). Frequent paternal visitation in high interparental conflict families enhanced adolescent's cognitive competency (Forehand,Wierson,Thomas, Armistead, Kempton, & Fauber, 1990)." (Pg. 34)
"...In a study assessing the effects of postdivorce parent access (Hodges, Landis, Day, & Oderberg, 1991) on child development in infants and toddlers (from birth to 36 months old) in maternal custody, preseparation conflict between the parents correlated with irregular visitation of noncustodial fathers. A poor visitation pattern was related to language development delays. There was also a significant relationship between poor visitation patterns and delayed gross motor development, with boys' gross motor development significantly poorer than that of girls. These results suggest that divorce may have important consequences for child development, and these consequences might indirectly impact on psychological adjustment." (Pg. 34)
(Another indication that father-presence is demonstrably vital to proper physical development as well as emotional development. -Ed.)
"...In the (Wallerstein) California Children of Divorce Study cited above, it was noted that sex differences for young children surfaced at the 18-month follow-up postdivorce (Wallerstein, 1984). Boys, whose psychological adjustment had been slightly worse than girls at the time of divorce, became significantly worse in all life settings at this later point in time. Although no significant differences were found between boys and girls in overall adjustment at the 10-year follow-up, the distinctive sleeper effect in young women (described above in Age and Developmental Status) was characterized by the emergence of anxieties that may earlier have been repressed, especially concerning heterosexual relationships (Wallerstein & Corbin, 1989)." (Pg. 35)
"...A sleeper effect was noted in young women who had been untroubled in early adolescence, but whose interpersonal relationships were now conflicted, characterized by their concerns about rejection and betrayal (Wallerstein & Corbin, 1989). Therefore, while boys suffered more adjustment problems throughout the early years following divorce, problems surfaced for girls as they approached adulthood.
Wallerstein concluded that "complexly interlocking factors... must be taken into account when delineating the divorce experience over time" (1984, p. 445), that divorce is "a psychological progression taking place over time and many developmental milestones" (1991, p. 354), and that "the child of divorce faces many additional psychological burdens in addition to the normative tasks of growing up" (1991, p. 354)." (Pg. 27)
(It would appear that boys start bearing the brunt of the negative psychological effects of divorce right away, whereas girls manifest problems later in life- around the time they begin to become involved in more serious relationships, including marriage. -Ed.)