Key Statistics About Kids From Divorced Families

What Research Tells Us About the Effect of Divorce on Children

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 take a physical toll on children. As a result, it's not uncommon for kids of divorced parents to experience more health-related issues than children living in intact families.

In fact, research shows that adolescents whose parents have divorced are more likely to experience injury, accidents, and illness than children whose parents have remained married. Teens living with both biological parents tend to be more more physically healthy than teens from homes without both biological parents present. However, this study relied on reports from both teens and their parents, and their responses were often very different.

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 don't allow health complaints or other physical 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, one study found that children living in intact, nuclear families are about half as likely as children in step, blended, or one-parent families to have a mental disorder or need psychological help. In fact, studies show that the psychological effects and emotional strain of divorce even linger into adulthood. For instance, researchers at the University of Toronto found that men from families that divorced during their childhood were more than three times as likely to consider suicide than men whose parents never divorced.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Meanwhile, adult children also may be vulnerable to drug and alcohol use in adolescence, have fears about commitment and divorce, and have negative memories of the legal system that forced custody and visitation.

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 helps 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 doctors 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.

Academic 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. Over the years, statistics on the educational effects of divorce still support these facts.

Children may miss classroom time for court dates and may move schools once the divorce is final. They may also receive less parental involvement and direction with regards to their education because they are either living with one parent or bouncing between two homes. These consequences also may be related to the fact that many children of divorce lose some economic security. This same literature review found that custodial mothers may lose as much as 25% to 50% of their pre-divorce incomes.

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, arranging study groups, and possibly even utilizing tutoring services. Their teachers also 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.

Yet 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. Even without those conditions, parents can and do divorce via mediation and consider their children first. Many states, such as New York, are increasingly friendly toward 50/50 custody. Divorce leading to happier parents with two stable homes can be and often is better for children than an unhappy and chaotic family life in an single home.

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, consistent support for their children not only during the process but in the years after.

Parents need to find a balance between dealing with the divorce and their emotions and supporting their children throughout the process. While the divorce may make sense to the parents, it still may 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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