Fathers in Post-Divorce Families

Fathers in Post-Divorce Families

Mother’s Day did not bring me the satisfaction that I expected
but then I meditated and realized
that I should wait until Father’s Day before I harbored resentment.
— Myron Lazar in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy

Well Myron, here’s your chance. All of us have fathers too, so let’s consider their change in status and relationship position post-divorce. Fathers often have a difficult time figuring out how to have a meaningful relationship with their children. As former spouses, each parent must simultaneously develop new rules and behaviors with each other while they find new ways of relating independently with their children. Children do best when they maintain relationships with both parents as well as extended families, and are not triangulated into parental disputes.

More than thirty years ago my mentor, John W. Jacobs, MD “reviewed the psychological literature relating to the experience of divorcing fathers” and concluded that:

  1. Parenthood is a maturational phase of male psychological development.

  2. Fathers have a critical role in the normal development of children.

  3. Children deprived of their fathers as a result of parental divorce, may suffer from a wide range of emotional problems.

  4. Divorced fathers often suffer when separated from their children.

  5. Parents and children do better when there is greater continuity of contact.

As fathers have become more involved in family nurturing over the ensuing years, they have also become more negatively affected by marital disruption and divorce. John suggests that for fathers, multiple divorce crises arise from (1) fear and guilt over separation, (2) outrage and disappointment with the legal system, (3) anxiety about the social and sexual readjustment to single life, and (4) the need to develop strategies for continuing child contact and care.

A father’s greatest fear is severely restricted contact, or even complete loss of any meaningful relationship with their children. Ronald B. Cohen, MD discusses how important it is for the health and well-being of both fathers and children for them to remain close after a divorce.Conversely, Constance Ahrons’ three decade long follow-up and reevaluation of adult children of divorce has shown that fathers and children can and do maintain long-term positive interactions. Given that it is the level of ongoing parental conflict and bitterness that is detrimental to children, many father-child relationships can be salvaged and improved post-divorce.

Nurturance of familial relationships requires reliability, consistency and genuine interest. Loss of their relationship with their fathers is often the most psychologically damaging effect of divorce on children. Children do better when the custody agreement includes free access to both parents.

Healthy adjustment of children without long-term psychological damage requires that divorced parents restructure their lives in ways that allow children to continue their relationships with both parents. Child adjustment is best when there is a solid home base, when biological parents can cooperate in co-parenting without ongoing conflict, and when the noncustodial parent maintains reliable contact, caring, and support.

So Myron, here’s hoping your Father’s Day is way more satisfying than your Mother’s Day was. And remember, the telephone works both ways, so call your kids and thank them for giving you a day to celebrate and enjoy the process.

Please share your Father’s Day thoughts and experiences in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post useful, don’t keep it a secret. Go ahead and share this article with your own networks. You are encouraged to click on the buttons in the second to the right hand column at the bottom of the page.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC www.familyfocusedsolutions.com Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Jacquie Ye on June 13, 2013 at 10:23 am said:

    “Children deprived of their fathers as a result of parental divorce, may suffer from a wide range of emotional problems.” Well said! I have observed several cases recently in my office, how the young people suffer from the sudden and confusing lapse of presence of their father after parents’ divorce, sometimes caught between conflicts, anger, and parents fighting for love from the children or avoiding financial responsibilities due to resentment towards the ex-spouse… Those young people appeared so haunted by the unresolved loss and dilemma, as if part of them stopped growing out of the scared, confused child…

    I also notice that we don’t talk enough about father’s role in attachment work, yet it could be such an important piece of “attachment injury”. Thank you for bringing this topic more to my immediate awareness!

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on June 14, 2013 at 8:27 am said:

      Hi Jacquie,

      Thank you for adding to the discussion. It is unfortunately true that ever since the good Doctor Freud arrived on the scene psychiatrists appear to have forgotten that all children have fathers. Bowlby made the same mistake in his initial work on attachment. Healthy adjustment of the children without long-term psychological damage necessitates maintaining all familial relationships that were important and meaningful in their lives before the divorce, including parents, in-laws and grandparents on both sides, aunts, uncles, cousins, pets and other extended family members. Co-parents in a post-divorce family should be helped to develop a willingness to maintain financial responsibilities, continue parental contact with their ex-spouse, and support contact of children with their ex-spouse and his/her family. Children who regularly see their fathers have the best post-divorce adjustment.



  2. Jillian Beverstock, MS, LMFT on July 5, 2013 at 11:00 am said:

    Thank you for this article. I cannot tell you how many times I try to articulate to parents that BOTH need to be involved in their child’s life and how many father’s grieve around not seeing their children enough. At times it may come out in anger or indifference as they try to find a way to cope with their sadness.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on July 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm said:

      Hi Jillian,

      Family relationships after divorce are complex and ambiguous. The parameters of the post-divorce father-child relationship are unfortunately dictated much more by legal pronouncement than by reasoned discussion, clinical wisdom or common sense. That suggests at least three avenues of intervention, (1) work on the societal level to change the legal and political discourse, (2) attend full time to the relationship issues regardless of what anyone else is doing and (3) take care of one’s own productivity and personal well being.

      Children benefit most when the relationship between their parents is generally supportive and cooperative and the custody agreement includes free access to both parents.



  3. Michael Toebe on July 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm said:

    Hello Ronald. Thank you for writing this post.

    Times have changed and continue to do so. More dads are investing more time with their children, doing more of the less-glamorous parenting duties and showing more nurturing qualities.

    Sadly, unless the mother of their children recognize and value this, the children and their father suffer from the courts not recognizing nor wanting to see the new reality of fathers’ love, in action.

    Many moms want more parental involvement and respect and value it when it is there but not all moms are this way. Resentment over the marriage, divorce or often, money, makes the children less accessible to dads who want to love and be significantly involved in raising their children to be healthy.

    Jillian expressed this well “many father’s grieve around not seeing their children enough.”

    If the courts researched father’s feelings and saw that grief that Jillian wrote of, they might have a different perspective. I once read a family law judge write that fathers get into trouble in court for their angry expressions. I believe any parent of any gender would feel angry when faced with the loss of time (once lost is forever lost) with their children, mothers included.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on July 8, 2013 at 11:02 am said:

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for adding to the conversation. Children do best when they maintain ongoing relationships with both parents and extended families, and are not triangulated into parental disputes. Co-parents in a post-divorce family must evidence willingness to maintain financial responsibilities, continue parental contact with their ex-spouse, and support contact of children with their ex-spouse and his or her family. The post-divorce couple has the difficult task of terminating the marital relationship while redefining the parental one. Application of family systems theory offers practical solutions. Coaching for a good emotional divorce helps former spouses gain sufficient objectivity about the relationship to reduce bitterness and make it possible to achieve personal goals.



  4. Kevin Corr on September 5, 2013 at 9:30 am said:

    Dr. Cohen – I am a family law practitioner in Boston and I have been asked to sit on a panel in a program run by the MA GAL group, the subject matter being “From Father knows Best to Modern Family; The Role of Fathers and Implications for Child Custody Evaluations.”

    I am interviewing experts in the field and came across your name on a Divorce Advice Internet posting. Would you be willing to share some of your advice, thoughts and insights with me, as to which I will happily credit you at the presentation in October.

    Have a good day/weekend.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on September 8, 2013 at 7:52 am said:

      Hi Kevin,

      I am both humbled and honored by your request. Of course divorce and the “Modern Family” is a potential blog onto itself, especially if we are considering future additions as well as subtractions. Let’s not forget the changing role of mothers post-divorce. I will be publishing on the Remarried Family next week. Please contact me directly to arrange a time to discuss your needs.



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