What Are the Effects of Divorce on Children?

Is Divorce Bad for Children?

Parents often consider staying together instead of splitting up until their children are adults because of the effect divorce can have on their children. However, kids can adjust well to divorce over time and not all the effects of divorce are bad. It is also important to note that adult children can be just as affected by divorce as minors, and some researchers believe it is harder for adult children to adapt to their parent’s divorce than minors.

Below, we will discuss the effects divorce has on children. For ways that you can help your child cope with divorce, you can read our blog, “How Parents Can Help Children Cope with Divorce.”

The Effects of Divorce on Children

According to research by Sol Rappaport, children struggle most with divorce during the first and second years following the split. After these initial years, most kids bounce back and are able to adapt to the changes in their lives.

Here are the ways that children can be affected by their parent’s divorce.

  • Mental health. Children and adolescents can experience a wide range of emotions and suffer psychological issues as well. Research suggests that some children of divorced parents can suffer from anxiety and/or depression; they may also suffer from an adjustment disorder. However, these issues may resolve themselves over time.
  • Behavioral issues. After your divorce, your child may lash out or act impulsively; they may also experience conflict with other children in school or extracurriculars.
  • Academic performance. Because of stress, a lack of motivation, behavioral issues, or other problems stemming from your divorce, your child’s academic performance may suffer. Whether they stop paying attention in class or let their grades slip, they might have issues in school.
  • Risk-taking behavior. Children of divorce may engage in reckless or risky behavior as a way to lash out or unhealthily process their emotions.
  • Loss of extracurricular interests. Children may not want to engage socially after the divorce because they feel like others can’t relate to them or their situation.

Effects of Divorce Based on Your Child’s Age

The effects of divorce can vary based on your child’s age and developmental age. Specifically, the way your divorce impacts your pre-teen will vary from how your five-year-old acts.

Infants (birth to 18 months) may become irritable and clingy, and they may have emotional outbursts. While you may be surprised that babies can be affected, they can feel tension, especially among their caregivers, even if they don’t understand the circumstances of the conflict itself.

Toddlers (ages 18 months to three years old) can struggle to understand and/or accept disruptions to their routine and home life. At this age, children can also struggle with blaming themselves for their parents’ split and/or the changes in their life. They may cry frequently and more often as well as crave more attention. Parents may also notice a regression in their behavior, such as resisting potty training, sucking their thumb again, or having sleep issues again.

Young children (ages three to six) may struggle with their feelings, especially feelings of uncertainty. They can also struggle with understanding the concept of divorce and may not understand the changes in their life. These children may have nightmares, negative thoughts and emotions, and emotional struggles (especially burying or failing to process their emotions).

Pre-teens (ages six to 11) can struggle with feelings of abandonment. Six- to eight-year-olds can feel like their parents are leaving them and may become anxious about their parental relationships; they can also fantasize and obsess over saving their parents’ marriage. Eight- to 11-year-old children may blame either parent for the divorce because of their feelings of abandonment, which can lead them to lash out at or alienate the “guilty” party. Children in this age group can also be withdrawn or depressed and may lash out at peers or other people in their lives.

Adolescents (ages 12 to 18) can struggle with their anger. They may blame their parents and alienate or resent one or both parents. Children in this group are also more likely to engage in reckless or risky behavior, such as partaking in drugs or alcohol, engaging in early sexual activity, and/or taking more risks.

Positive Ways Divorce Can Impact Your Children

While divorce can impact your child’s emotional and mental health, all the effects of divorce are not negative. Children can also benefit from their parent’s divorce. Divorce can positively affect your child by helping them:

  • Be more relaxed (if their parent’s marriage was a high-conflict union).
  • Be more self-sufficient.
  • Become more empathetic.
  • Develop better coping mechanisms and communication skills.
  • Develop resiliency.
  • Develop stronger relationships with both parents as well as their siblings.
  • Understand the importance of and place even more value on relationships (including romantic relationships).

Get Legal Help

Backed by over 45 years of legal experience, Kallen Law Firm is committed to helping families smoothly navigate their family law cases. We have represented thousands of clients and are known for providing compassionate yet aggressive representation. Our attorneys handle a wide variety of family law cases, including (but not limited to):

To schedule a case consultation, contact our team online or call (314) 441-7793.