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Understanding the Impact of Divorce on Children

Divorce is a complex and emotionally charged process that can have a significant impact on all parties involved, especially children. As parents navigate the challenging terrain of ending a marriage, it is crucial to recognize and understand the potential effects of divorce on children.

Throughout the process, it is imperative that children remain children and are not involved in adult issues. Do not put your children in an uncomfortable situation or make your child choose which parent to side with. Divorce also has an impact on adult children so be mindful of your actions even if you’re divorcing later in life.

A compassionate and informed approach can significantly mitigate a divorce’s impact on the children involved. As family law attorneys, our mission extends beyond the courtroom—to advocate for the well-being and future happiness of the families I serve.

Stats about children and divorce.

As divorce rates increased over the years, a lot of research has been dedicated to understanding the impact of divorce on children. While many of these statistics seem bleak, it is important to acknowledge them as a means of understanding the challenges children may face and doing what we can to prevent them.

  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) roughly 50% of American children will witness their parents’ divorce.
  • According to research from the University College London, children have a 16% higher likelihood of experiencing behavioral issues if their parents divorce when they are between the ages of 7 and 14.
  • A 2019 study published in PNAS estimates that divorce is associated with an 8% lower probability of a child completing high school, a 12% lower probability of college attendance, and a 11% lower probability of college completion.
  • Another 2019 study published in World Psychiatry reports children of divorced or separated parents are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to live in poverty.

The effects of divorce on children and steps to mitigate.

One of the primary consequences of divorce on children is the emotional turmoil they often endure. The dissolution of their parents' marriage can trigger a range of extreme emotions, including sadness, anger, confusion, and anxiety. Children may grapple with feelings of abandonment and may struggle to comprehend the sudden changes in their family dynamics. It is essential for parents to provide a safe space for children to express their emotions openly and assure them that their feelings are valid.

The stress and emotional turmoil resulting from divorce can have a direct impact on a child's academic performance. The instability at home may lead to difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, and a decline in overall academic performance. Parents and educators should collaborate to create a supportive environment for the child, offering resources such as counseling or additional academic assistance to help mitigate the challenges they may face in school.

Both parents shall work on this together. It is imperative that the disruption to children’s lives is minimized and that parents work together on what is best for the children.

Divorce can display various behavioral changes in children. Some may become withdrawn and isolated, while others may exhibit signs of rebellion or aggression. The modified family structure may contribute to feelings of insecurity and instability, prompting children to seek control through disruptive behavior. Open communication and professional counseling can play a vital role in helping children cope with these behavioral changes, addressing underlying issues and providing strategies for positive adjustment.

The psychological effects of divorce on children can extend well into adulthood. Research suggests that children of divorced parents may be more susceptible to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and a heightened risk of relationship difficulties in their own adult lives. Early intervention, support, and consistent communication between parents and children can contribute to minimizing the long-term psychological impact of divorce.

The level of conflict between divorcing parents significantly influences the well-being of their children. High levels of hostility and ongoing disputes can intensify the negative impact of divorce on children. On the contrary, parents who prioritize effective communication and cooperation in co-parenting can create a more stable and supportive environment for their children. Maintaining consistent routines, shared parenting responsibilities, and avoiding negative remarks about the other parent are crucial steps in fostering a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Staying together “for the children” is not the answer.

While the impact of divorce on children is often discussed in terms of challenges, it's essential to acknowledge that, in certain situations, divorce can have positive effects on children's lives. One significant positive aspect is the removal of children from toxic or unhealthy family environments. In cases where the marriage involves constant conflict, emotional abuse, or other detrimental factors, divorce can provide children with relief from a stressful atmosphere. This change can create a healthier living environment, fostering emotional well-being and allowing children to thrive without the constant exposure to discord.

Additionally, divorce can lead to improved parent-child relationships in some instances. When parents are no longer in a strained marital relationship, they may have the opportunity to focus more on their individual roles as parents. This can result in more quality time spent with children, increased emotional support, and a deeper understanding of each child's unique needs. In situations where co-parenting is amicable, children may benefit from having positive and stable relationships with both parents separately, free from the tension that characterized their parents' marriage. Ultimately, divorce, when handled with sensitivity and a focus on the best interests of the children, can pave the way for healthier family dynamics and positive outcomes for the well-being of the children involved.

Attorney Lyndsay Robinson is counsel at Shaheen & Gordon, focusing on family law and estate planning. She serves on the board of the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association and is the ABA Young Lawyers Delegate for the New Hampshire Bar Association.