Children of Divorce

Publication year1987
16 Colo.Law. 1853
Colorado Lawyer

1987, October, Pg. 1853. Children of Divorce


Vol. 16, No. 10, Pg. 1853

Children of Divorce

by Parker T. Oborn

"Every other weekend and half of Christmas Day"

It sounds like a recipe for fairness, but few are happy with the product. With the divorce rate remaining constant or even increasing in Colorado, one of the most glaring omissions in the judicial system is that of sound guidelines governing the implementation of shared parental responsibility in raising future generations. The problem for the courts has been, and still is, finding a solution that is in the best interests of the children and determining the most equitable custody arrangement for the parents.

The courts have provided multiple and varied interpretations of "fair and reasonable," but the lack of longitudinally congruent research on "best interests of the children" still forces judges to predict, rather than to rule on clear and conclusive evidence.(fn1)

Impact on Children

Almost inevitably, children undergoing divorce incur some negative experience. Review of the literature suggests that the majority of children experience difficulty in several significant areas. These include factors relating to the quality of the relationship of children to their parents and their environment, as well as the parents' quality of relationship with each other. Research throughout the last ten to fifteen years well documents the potentially negative effect of divorce on children, including overdependency, anger, guilt, denial, depression and other maladjustments.(fn2)

The most serious casualties are more often in the youngest age group, in large part due to the limited social and cognitive competencies of such children. The literature and the research generally support the maxim that young children are highly vulnerable to divorce trauma. Research studies have shown that the father's impact upon child development is greater than has been previously assumed and that both parents are necessary for the optimal development of children, especially for young children. Thus, there should be involvement from both parents in cases of divorce.(fn3)

In one study, researchers noted that in situations of high father absence, both girls and boys displayed significant decreases in four areas of paternal influence following separation from father: emotional development, moral development, disciplinary role models, and financial decision-making.(fn4) The support for more father-child involvement in divorce has grown. The evidence clearly indicates that it is in the best interests of the child to have frequent access to both father and mother. There is no such thing as a disposable parent.


Highly visible mothers' and fathers' rights groups have inadvertently headed in the same direction, namely, they are less against each other and more toward what is now termed shared or mutual parental responsibility. Under these socio-cultural circumstances, the intent of recent laws is admirable and certainly an improvement of the outmoded systems of the past.

The heavily populated, progressive states like California and Florida stand at the vanguard of effort in this shared parental responsibility process. Laws governing this process, drafted largely without precedent, should draw heavily upon the available research and respected professional opinion on joint custody arrangements. The new shared parental responsibility laws are geared to help divorced mothers who may feel overburdened with solo parenting responsibilities and fathers who are not as actively involved and generally experience an enduring sense of loss. Such laws are intended to help make the best of a difficult situation.


Unfortunately, the "tender years" doctrine has now fallen by the wayside as outdated and outmoded. The development...

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