How Divorce Affects your Child

The number of marriages ending up in divorce has skyrocketed in the past few decades. Divorce has acute repercussions for the whole family, and especially the children, on whom the legal processes surrounding living arrangements and custody may leave ever-lasting scars.

The severity of the trauma varies from child to child. It depends on the age, temperament, personality, and emotional vulnerability of the child. The American Association for The Advancement of Science (AAAS) has conducted extensive, longitudinal studies to investigate how divorce affects children at different ages and how those effects last over time.

1-3 Years Old

Infants and toddlers may become irritable and clingy during the course of divorce. However, they fare much better than older children. This is because they only have vague memories of that phase. Since they don’t remember the transition well, they become used to their living arrangement and daily routine as they grow.

3-6 Years Old

Pre-schoolers don’t understand the notion of divorce and are confused as to why their parents no longer live together. They end up blaming themselves. They think that their behavior might have caused a sudden shift in their lives.

6-12 Years Old

Children of this age are at increased risk of psychological turmoil. They feel like their parents have not only divorced each other but also divorced them, which may instil a life-long fear of abandonment. Living with one parent leads to a decline in their relationship with the other. This makes them feel unwanted and unloved.

13-17 Years old

Divorce takes the biggest toll on teens because the negative impacts following divorce can persist into adulthood. Teens who live with their mother post-divorce tend to blame their father for the divorce, resenting him for the rest of their lives. They develop trust issues, have frequent anger outbursts and resort to rebellious behavior.

Though in some cases separation may improve the quality of life of individuals, paramount evidence gathered from a multitude of studies shows that divorce detrimentally impacts the lives of children in numerous ways:

Strained Relationship with Parents

The most immediate effect seen following marital disruption is the decline in the closeness of a child’s relationship with his parents. Living with one parent makes it difficult to maintain close ties with the other. Less frequent contact between parent and child causes them to drift apart over the course of time. Children living with a divorced parent get less support, encouragement and practical help which affects their emotional well-being.

Poor Academic Performance

Divorce adversely impacts the child’s performance in school. The sudden traumatic shift in the child’s world leaves them confused and distracted. Since their mind is constantly occupied by the situation at home, they’re unable to focus on schoolwork and lose interest in their studies. This mental exhaustion diminishes their ability to concentrate or learn new things, resulting in a drop in their grades. Many children have trouble excelling at school since their divorced parents don’t offer much assistance in schoolwork. This poor academic performance increases the likelihood of dropping out of school/college. This in turn impedes career prospects, putting the child’s future in danger.

Behavioral Problems

Children from divorced families are more likely to develop behavioral problems than those living in high-conflict, intact families. They become disruptive at home and school. They engage in destructive behavior like smoking, substance use, excessive drinking, and promiscuous sexual activity. According to a study published in 2010, children who were 5 years old or younger at the time of their parents were likely to lose their virginity before the age of 16. Research also shows that children whose parents are divorced resort to substance use and drinking earlier than their peers.

Mental Health Problems

Divorce between parents leaves children feeling angry, sad, frustrated, and anguished. Experiencing such feelings for prolonged periods of time increases the risk of mental health problems like depression and anxiety in children and teens.

Trouble in Romantic Relationships

The emotional turmoil caused by divorce has long-lasting psychological effects which impact friendships and marriage. Children from divorced families lose faith in marriage and family units. This negative attitude towards marriage hampers the quality of romantic relationships. Studies report that women who lived with their divorced mothers are more distrustful and less satisfied in their relationships. According to research, children who witnessed divorce between their parents have a 38% higher chance of divorce in their lives, compared to those with intact families.

How to Make Divorce Easier for Your Child?

Though divorce is a very agonizing experience for your child, it is better than growing up in a high-conflict, hostile environment. Parents can reduce the psychological toll of divorce on their children if they part ways in a healthy manner and co-parent peacefully. Communicate with your child and reassure them that divorce will not affect your relationship with them. Give them time and space to ease into the transition during divorce. However, stay in close contact. Children adjust to their parents’ separation more easily if they’re in close contact with both of them. Paying attention to their daily activities and spending quality time with them will help them feel safe. Consider attending school functions and participating in other activities together to eliminate fear of abandonment.

When to Get Professional Help

If your child has trouble adjusting to the changing family dynamics and continues to exhibit behavioral problems, you can seek professional help from your local Pediatrician or Mental Health Expert. If you are in the Ocala area, Kids Health Alliance would gladly help your child navigate through this complicated time. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit

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