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Psychological divorce-related tasks children need to accomplish for good Post-divorce adjustment


Over and above the age-appropriate developmental tasks children of divorce need to accomplish, they have specific divorce-related psychological tasks they need to attend to as well.  These tasks were taken into serious consideration when developing the Children of Divorce Intervention Program (CODIP), upon which the HURT to HOPE Divorce Adjustment Program (HtH) is founded.

The commonality of these tasks for most children of divorce, regardless of their age or gender, were noted by researchers in this field, Wallerstein and her colleagues, who conducted a longitudinal study of 60 ‘White’ middle-class divorcing families over a 15-year period (1974, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1987 and 1989).  They explained that these psychological tasks are made up of perceived threats to the psychic integrity of the child, and carry their own “…special set of challenges and added burdens…They are conceptualized as being hierarchical, and as following a particular time sequence, beginning with the critical event of the parental separation, and culminating in late adolescence and young adulthood.” (Wallerstein, 1983, p.231).

These tasks – hierarchically listed – include:

Task 1Acknowledging the reality of the marital rupture

Task 2Disengaging from parental conflict and distress and resuming customary  pursuits in one’s own life again!

Task 3 Resolving loss

Task 4Resolving anger and self-blame

Task 5Accepting the permanence of the divorce; and

Task 6Achieving realistic hope regarding relationships


Sessions 1-3 of the HURT to HOPE Divorce Adjustment Program addresses the first task by encouraging children participating in the program to express their divorce-related feelings.. 

Task 3, Resolving Loss, is addressed as children communicate feelings of sadness and grief about what they have experienced during the divorce process, and at group termination.

In sessions 4-7 of the HURT to HOPE program children are taught problem-solving skills which help them to disengage from parental conflict and parent-related problems (task 2) and focus on their own lives again. At this time a reinvestment in their lives revolves around  resolving child-related problems like fights with friends or siblings, getting on with school projects and telling parents they do not like to be caught in the middle of their arguments.

When group members learn anger-control skills in sessions 9 & 10, they are dealing with the 4th task. – resolving anger and self-blame.

In the final sessions of the program, sessions 10-12, task 6 is addressed, achieving realistic hope for the future as they learn that although their family structures have changed, they can still can experience many of the characteristics of family life they value, like fun, warmth, honesty, etc.

Task 5, Accepting the permanence of the divorce is a more difficult task to accomplish.  However being in a group with other children who are going through the same life transition normalizes the divorce experience.  The group is experienced as a safe place to share divorce-related feelings.  Being with group members who may be further along in the divorce process helps children understand and accept the permanence of the divorce, and to realize that other children have survived this life transition, and they can too.

Divorce-related issues pertinent to intimate and more permanent relationships (tasks 5 & 6), are often tasks that can only be addressed during the developmental stages of adolescence and early adulthood, as issues of dating and marriage become more significant.  As Kalter and Plunkett (1984) state:

romantic celebration 200At each new nodal developmental point new normative developmental stresses are encountered and previous conflicts are likely to resurface, both to complicate development and to provide and opportunity for their re-working.  (p.614).




Wallerstein, J. S.  (1983).  Children of Divorce:  The psychological tasks of the child.  American Journal of Orthospychiatry, 53, 231-242.

Kalter, N. & Plunkett, J.W.  (1984).  Children’s perceptions of the causes and consequences of divorce.  Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 23, 326-334.