Irish Independent

Friday, June 2, 2000

Divorce a threat to health of children, says expert

By FRANK KHAN
Irish Independent

DIVORCE causes heartache for children and can seriously damage their physical and emotional well-being, according to a leading Jesuit child psychologist.

And in a study on the impact of marital breakdown, Dublin-based Father Paul Andrews says step-parents intrusively change children's lives and controversially claims many articulate, ``not to say shrill'' women now see men as ``superfluous once the insemination is over''.

Writing in the latest issue of Studies, the quarterly review, Fr Andrews said: ``Our Constitution, sometimes thought to be patriarchal, is curiously silent about fathers; those who have lost their children can find themselves at a huge disadvantage in law.''

IMPACT

Referring to the impact of divorce on children, Fr Andrews said experts had found that:

* Re-marriage with the experience of a step family can be ``extremely distressing''.

* Children of a re-ordered family are twice as likely to have problems in the areas of health, behaviour, schoolwork, social life and low self-esteem.

* They are more timid about confrontation in later life.

* Such children are more likely to consult a psychiatrist than those from a ``normal'' family.

And he says a British study has also shown the chances of a child of divorced parents going to university were halved.

Fr Andrews writes: ``To be a parent in the eyes of a young child requires living with that child. Moving elsewhere is conceived as terminating parenthood.

``Most young children believe that for a a parent to move away from the family is to surrender his/her parenthood.''

PSYCHO BABBLE

The relatively new factor in Irish legislation and married life was not separation, which had been around for many years years, but re-marriage.

The psychologist adds: ``The divorce law of 1997 legitimised the re-married and their offspring. Step-parents obviously form one obtrusive change in children's lives.

``Parents deciding to separate justify their decision in terms of `giving one another space' or some such psycho babble. But the sweet reason of adults can seem apocalyptic to children.''

In his article, out next week, he also refers to single parents.

He says if single parenthood is taken as the norm ``it will be a new and probably less effective family''.

He writes: ``The family is not just one of our social institutions but the one on which all others depend.''