Key Statistics About Kids From Divorced Families

In This Article

Divorce is often a pivotal experience for children, at times changing the entire trajectory of their lives. In fact, from a child's perspective, divorce represents a loss of stability, and more importantly, a loss of family. Consequently, it's not surprising that the shock of divorce causes a range of emotional responses in kids including everything from anger and frustration to anxiety and sadness.

But the impact of divorce is not limited to emotions. Divorce also impacts kids physically, psychologically, and academically. Following is a closer look at the impact divorce can have on children—even when divorce needs to happen. As a result, parents need to be aware of these consequences and take steps to help their kids not only cope with the situation but also heal from it.

Physical Effects 

Living through a divorce is stressful, which can physically take a toll on children. As a result, it is not uncommon for kids of divorced parents to suffer from more health-related issues than children living in intact families.

In fact, research shows that children whose parents have divorced are more likely to experience injury, asthma, headaches, and speech impediments than children whose parents have remained married. They also are 50% more likely to develop health problems than two-parent families. Meanwhile, children living with both biological parents are 20 to 35% more physically healthy than children from homes without both biological parents present.

For this reason, it's important for divorced parents to make their children's health needs a priority. This means making sure their children are getting yearly physicals, staying current on vaccinations, having their eyesight evaluated annually, and seeing a dentist at least once a year. They also should make sure they do not allow health complaints or issues to go untreated. Keeping the kids healthy and well-cared for in the midst of a divorce should be a top priority for both parents.

Emotional Effects 

Divorce is an emotional experience bringing about a range of conflicting emotions and feelings. And when these emotions are not dealt with in a healthy and supportive way, they can wreak havoc on children's lives.

For instance, research indicates that teenagers in single-parent families and in blended families are 300% more likely to need psychological help within any given year than teens from intact, nuclear families. In fact, people who come from broken homes are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who do not come from broken homes. Meanwhile, children from divorced homes may have more psychological problems than children who lost a parent to death.

And, the emotional impact of divorce does not stop there. Research indicates that the emotional strain of coming from a divorced home can follow children into adulthood. In fact, adult children of divorce tend to have lower-paying jobs and less college education than their parents. They also have a history of vulnerability to drugs and alcohol in adolescence, fears about commitment and divorce, and negative memories of the legal system that forced custody and visitation.

Even unstable father-child relationships can contribute to the emotional unease that children from divorced families experience. For instance, 40% of children growing up in America today are being raised without their fathers. About 40% of children who do not live with their biological father have not seen him during the past 12 months; more than half of them have never been in his home and 26% of those fathers live in a different state than their children. This absenteeism has a huge impact on the emotional well-being of children.

Considering the emotional consequences that children from divorced homes experience, parents should consider finding a counselor for their child to talk to throughout the process and for a year or so afterward. Having a neutral party to help them process their feelings and emotions can be extremely helpful for children.

If counseling is not an option, parents may want to look into support groups or talk with their family doctor for recommendations. Parents also should watch for signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and bring those concerns to a doctor right away.

Educational Effects

Studies from the early 1980s demonstrated that children in situations where their parents had been involved in multiple divorces earned lower grades than their peers and their peers rated them as less pleasant to be around. They also are twice as likely to drop out of high school than their peers who are living with parents who did not divorce.

Because divorce can be so emotionally distracting for children, it is difficult for them to focus in school and concentrate on homework after hours, especially if there is still turmoil or instability in the home. In fact, one study found that children from divorced homes have lower educational outcomes than peers who have never experienced a divorce.

This fact should come as no surprise because children are often to miss classroom time for court dates and move schools once the divorce is final. They also receive less parental involvement and direction with regards to education because they are either living with one parent or bouncing between two homes.

Recognizing that a divorce will impact their children's academic achievement is the first step in addressing this consequence. From there, parents should work with teachers and counselors to develop a plan to help their children succeed in school despite what is happening at home. This may include helping with homework, going to study tables or groups, and possibly even receiving tutoring. Each child's teacher should be able to make recommendations on how to address the educational challenges they are facing.

Other Considerations

Although statistics vary depending on the source, there is no denying that the rate of divorce in the United States is high, especially when compared to other countries. In fact, it is not uncommon for American children to witness the breakup of their parents' marriage.

And, for those who do experience divorce, close to half of them also will witness the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. In fact, one of every 10 children whose parents have divorced also will experience three or more subsequent parental marriage breakups.

Yet, despite the negative impact divorce can have on children, there are times when it the best option given the situation. In fact, divorce is often the best answer for children living in homes where domestic violence, abuse, or other harmful behavior patterns occur.

A Word From Verywell

Clearly, divorce increases the likelihood that the children impacted will face challenges. As a result, parents need to work hard to provide solid, responsible support for their children not only during the process but in the years after the divorce is finalized. Remember, as difficult as the divorce is on the parents, it is even more difficult for the children.

For this reason, parents should avoid focusing too much energy on divorce and their feelings. Instead, they need to find a balance between dealing with the divorce and their emotions and supporting their children through the process. While the divorce may make sense to the parents, it may still be perplexing for the children. They need to have their needs met along the way in order to cope with the situation in the healthiest way.

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Article Sources

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Fomby P, Cherlin AJ. Family instability and child well-beingAm Sociol Rev. 2007;72(2):181–204.

  3. Anderson J. The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorceLinacre Q. 2014;81(4):378–387. doi:10.1179/0024363914Z.00000000087

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Additional Reading

  • Dawson, Deborah. "Family Structure and Children's Health and Well-Being: Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey on Child Health." Journal of Marriage and the Family 53(August 1991):573-84.

  • Gallager, Maggie. The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love

  • Patrick F. Fagan and Robert Rector, "The Effects of Divorce on America," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, May 2000.

  • Ronald Angel and Jacqueline L. Worobey, "Single Motherhood and Children's Health," Journal of Health and Social Behavior 29 (1985): 38 - 52.