Divorce in South Africa


Divorce is an increasing phenomenon, affecting more families each year5. Marriage has become more optional and a less permanent institution6, causing an increase in the number of children living in single parent families. In South Africa, as in the United States, divorce rates are very high, with more than 34 400 divorces in 20027. This figure does not include people who are still married but not living together or those who are currently filing for divorce. The percentage of divorced White South Africans is the highest in South Africa compared to other population groups. The highest number of children affected by divorce therefore also comes from White South African families.

Divorce potentially involves painful transitions and numerous challenges for the adolescent. In many cases the divorce can be like a death in the family although it is in actual fact the death of a family8. Divorce is sometimes experienced as a loss, while some children experience the loss as worse than the death of a parent, which they can mourn and from which they can then move on. Some adolescents experience divorce as a double loss: firstly, the loss of the parent who leaves and secondly, less emotional availability from the remaining parent struggling with his/her own emotions9. Experiencing the loss of family and support provided by the family can place the adolescent in a vulnerable situation5.  



The impact of divorce on children and adolescents is multifaceted, ranging from emotional distress, financial problems, housing changes, poor relationships and many more negative implications10.  The adolescents coming from a divorced family have to deal with normal developmental tasks with additional stressors from the divorce11, potentially placing the adolescent at risk.  Although some adolescents are resilient, many are vulnerable and struggle to cope after their parents’ divorce12.  In my experience as an educator, coping with divorce is generally difficult for adolescents.

Not all adolescents do, however, become dysfunctional because of the risks outlined above.  There are numerous adolescents who adapt to these stressors and who display psychological wellness regardless of their parents’ divorce.  These adolescents may be termed resilient.  Resilience can be defined as patterns of good adaptation under extenuating circumstances - arising from individuals and their assets, from relationships with family and community, school and religion and other cultural traditions - or as the ability to rebound from adversity13.  Resilience therefore is the individual’s capacity to navigate to and use health-promoting resources (such as support groups, stress management programs, school support services)  as provided by the individual’s family, community and culture in a culturally meaningful way.14 

Typically, the adolescent who is resilient can be described as one who:
*          evidence academic achievement
*          engages in pro-social conduct
*          enjoys peer acceptance and friendships
*          displays normative mental health, and
*          engages in age appropriate activities. 


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