What impact does a divorce have on children?
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What impact does a divorce have on children?



Divorce rates have declined recently throughout the United States.


However, divorce is still a common occurrence that can have serious consequences for adults and children.


It is also very normal to think about divorce and its consequences.


What impact, specifically, does divorce have on children?


Below are answers to some of the most pressing questions parents have when going through a divorce.






What Impact Does Divorce Have on Children?


Psychology experts have found that divorce often has noteworthy effects on children.


Every child is unique, of course, and will react to the news differently. In general, though, the following are common issues that they may exhibit:

  • Regression
  • Changes in Eating and Sleeping
  • Risky Behaviors




Behavior regressions often occur when a child’s parents are going through a divorce. This is especially true of toddlers and very young children. They might start sucking their thumbs, wetting the bed, or throwing tantrums, for example.


Changes in Eating and Sleeping Patterns


Parents might notice changes in children’s eating and sleeping patterns while going through a divorce, too. A report published in the journal Obesity revealed that, in response to stress, the child might eat less or more than usual. They may start to sleep less or be more lethargic as well.


Risky Behaviors


Some children will engage in risky behaviors after their parents get divorced. They might act out as a way to get attention or to try and bring their parents back together. They might also behave this way because they have pent-up feelings of frustration or stress and don’t know how to manage them in healthy ways.



How Does Divorce Affect a Child’s Mental Health?


Divorce has significant negative effects on children’s mental health, too. Reports from Developmental Psychology show that children of divorce are often more prone to depression and anxiety than their peers.


There are a few reasons why this might happen. Kids may blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, for example. They might also have a hard time coping with all the changes that are resulting from the divorce (changing schools, moving to a different house, dividing their time between both parents, etc.).


It’s important to note that signs of depression and anxiety in children are not always obvious. Some children may exhibit a sad mood or be clingier than usual, whereas others may lash out in anger or have panic attacks.


If parents are concerned that their child is depressed or anxious, they should arrange for them to be evaluated by a psychologist or another mental health professional, or begin counseling.



How Does Divorce Affect Children’s Social Development?


Divorce can impact children’s social development, too. This is especially true if they are struggling with mental health challenges like depression or anxiety.


These conditions may cause them to become more withdrawn, which can then make it harder for them to make friends or maintain existing friendships.


On the flip side, after their parents go through a divorce, other children might seek out attention from their peers that they feel they’re not getting at home. Some research published in Development Psychology shows that teenage girls are more likely to have sex at a younger age if they live in a home where their father isn’t present, for example.


Single parenting comes with challenges, and it is hard to fully observe and chaperone kids. Children feel the same feelings they parents do. Children of divorced parents feel the effects of divorce, and often cope with maladaptive behaviors.


Children of divorce

At What Age Are Children Most Impacted by Divorce?


Divorce affects children of all ages. Whether parents have toddlers or teenagers, divorce will impact these children.


Here is a breakdown of the different ways children are affected by divorce based on age:

  • 0-2: Children this age might not remember the events surrounding a divorce later in life, but they will likely sense that something is “off” in the home and may act out as a result
  • 3-5: Children this age also may not be able to comprehend the meaning of divorce, but they will still be able to pick up on tension and may struggle (behavior regressions, throwing tantrums, etc.) because of it
  • 6-12: This age is generally considered to be the hardest for children whose parents are getting divorced; they can comprehend what’s happening, but they also will likely have a lot of questions, may feel stuck in the middle, and may even blame themselves for the situation
  • 13+: Teenagers often struggle when their parents get divorced and may engage in risky behaviors or be more apathetic than usual; at the same time, though, they have a greater capacity to understand what’s happening and know that they’re not at fault.
  • Adult Children of Divorce: Divorce is difficult on children, regardless of their age. Adult children also experience negative effects when they see mom and dad divorce. This can include disillusionment of the family structure, depression, relationship problems, behavior problems, high levels of stress, and an increased likelihood of being divorced themselves in the future.



How Does Divorce Affect Children’s Education?


It’s not uncommon for children’s academic performance to change after learning that their parents are getting divorced.


They may struggle to keep up or focus on assignments. They might also feel apathetic about school (this is especially common for teenagers) and wonder what the point is in continuing to try. According to research from World Psychiatry, divorce can also influence a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school altogether.


Is it Better to Stay Together for the Child?


Many parents wonder if they should stay together and continue being part of a dysfunctional family. They might question whether or not this is better for their child’s well-being.



Some children of divorce have revealed that they feel their parents were better off separating than continuing to try and work things out for their sake. This information implies that it’s harder for kids to watch their parents fighting than it is to see them get divorced.


Can some parents work it out and maintain a happy home for themselves and their kids? Of course. Is a parental separation something to consider instead of divorce? Most certainly.


However, if both parties agree that the marriage is beyond repair, it may be better, in the long run, to cut their losses and move forward with a divorce.



Does Divorce Impact Children Long-Term?


Divorce can have long-term impacts on children. This is especially likely if parents do not take proactive steps to protect their child’s mental health, such as taking them to therapy and helping them learn effective coping strategies for stress, anxiety, and depression.



The good news is that most children of divorce are highly resilient and often don’t exhibit obvious psychological issues or other problems later in life.



At the same time, though, according to research published in the Journal of Family Psychology, young adults from divorced families may struggle with painful feelings and distress as they grow up. This is particularly common when it comes to big events like graduations, weddings, and other events where both parents will attend.


If you are considering divorce, you may benefit from participating in Discernment Counseling which is a short-term decision making process to help you decide the future of your marriage.





Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people’s lives through providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.




Written and reviewed by

Dr Kyle Zrenchik, PhD, ACS, LMFT

Dr. Kyle Zrenchik is the Co-Founder of ALL IN, the Creator of the Couples Erotic Flow model for treating sexual issues in individuals and couples, Designer of the Deep Dive programs at ALL IN, and is one of the most well-respected couples counselors in the Twin Cities.

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