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Divorce: Trends and Consequences

Effects Of Divorce In The Family System

Because older adults are heavily involved in exchange relationships with members of their families, divorce may affect their lives even when it occurs to someone else in the family. Colleen Johnson (1988) reported that two-thirds of the adults she studied turned to aged parents for instrumental support, especially childcare and other services, following divorce. In addition, emotional support and practical advice are frequently offered. According to Raeann Hamon (1995), however, older parents struggle with finding a balance between offering support and avoiding interference in their children's postdivorce lives.

The grandparent-grandchild relationship also is subject to dramatic change when adult offspring divorce. Whether these relationships are intensified or weakened clearly depends on the custodial status of the divorcing offspring. Because mothers still maintain primary custody of children in the majority of divorces, maternal grandparents often experience heightened involvement with their grandchildren following an adult child's divorce. This intensified grandparental role typically results from the increase in assistance they are providing to the single, custodial mother (their daughter). In contrast, paternal grandparents are often delegated to a more distant position, characterized by ritualistic contact on special occasions.

Finally, the flow of support to aging parents may be threatened by the divorce of adult offspring. As grown children experience greater vulnerability and need during and after their divorces, they may be less able to assist the older generation. In addition, the reduction in involvement with former children-in-law may reduce the size of the potential support system for older adults.



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