Judith Wallerstein

Judith Wallerstein is a psychologist and researcher who has devoted 25 years to the study of the long-term effects of divorce. Her work is thoughtful, professional, and disturbing. It is also informal, anecdotal, and subject to frightening misinterpretation.

Wallerstein began her research in the early 1970's with 131 children of divorce. She interviewed at length both the children and their parents. She has continued to follow those same families as the children have matured into adulthood and begun families of their own, continuing periodic interviews and checking their progress through life. Wallerstein's research is different from its predecessors because it continued for so long after the actual divorce. Her research is the product of hundreds of hours of interviews with children of divorce and their parents. It is an extraordinary gift, and she deserves our thanks and praise.

Wallerstein's most significant finding by far is that the effects of divorce on children are not short-term and transient. They are long-lasting, profound, and cumulative. The children in Wallerstein's study view their parents differently, and they have lingering fears about their ability to commit to relationships that affect their own marriages.

 

Children experience divorce differently from their parents, and on different schedules. By and large, divorcing spouses go through a period of high conflict and intense pain during the divorce process. The pain continues for years after divorce, but healing is usually more or less complete within three years after divorce. Wallerstein's research indicates that this just isn't true for children. The effects of the divorce for children may continue for decades.

The children in Wallerstein's study complained bitterly about being forced to disrupt their lives to spend time with the non-custodial parent. They wanted to see the other parent but felt that all the arrangements were made for their parents' convenience and not theirs. One young woman in Wallerstein's study was so resentful of having to miss activities to visit her father that when she reached adulthood she stopped seeing her father at all.

The children Wallerstein studied were more likely to struggle with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Fully half the children she studied were involved in serious abuse of alcohol and drugs, some as early as age 14. And they tended to become sexually active early, particularly the girls.

She deceased in summer 2012.