Divorce and Its Effect on Children

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Going through a divorce is not easy for anyone involved. Outside of the divorcing couple themselves, others who may be impacted by a divorce include friends, family members, and most importantly — children. Divorce can have a profound — and oftentimes very negative — effect on children. That is not to say that a married couple who is considering divorce should not seek one for children’s sake, but it does mean that the psychological impact that divorce may have on children should be considered. If you are thinking about divorce, seek help from a professional who can guide you regarding divorce and its effect on children.

Factors Children Have to Cope with During Divorce

Although adolescents and younger children may respond to divorce differently, regardless of the age of a child when parents pursue a divorce, the child will undergo a massive life change. The Effects of Divorce on Children, published by Parenting 24/7, outlines some of the massive life changes that a child may have to cope with when parents divorce:

  • Loss of a parent. Many children of divorce lose the opportunity to interact with one of their parents (the non-custodial parent), or to form or maintain a deep bond with that parent.
  • Economic changes. It is not uncommon for a divorce to result in a significant change in financial circumstances for a child, often meaning fewer economic resources.
  • Conflict between parents. When a couple is divorcing, conflict is almost always an integral part of their relationship. When a child is exposed to this conflict, it may result in psychological harm.
  • Increased stress. The number of life stressors that a child is exposed to almost always increases as a result of a divorce. Changing schools, changing homes, changing neighborhoods, having to make new friends, and more can all be traumatic for a child. Often times, this is combined with poor parental adjustment as well.

 

Each of the factors above can have a negative effect on a child’s psyche and mental health.

 

Divorce and Its Effect on Children

There is no doubt that a child of divorce will undergo significant life changes. But how do these changes affect a child? Consider the following short-term and long-term effects of divorce on children:

 

Short-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

 The short-term effects for children may develop during the initial phase of the parents’ divorce — emotional divorce — before the divorce has been finalized legally. Due to the increased burden that is placed on children’s shoulders (often acting as a mediator between parents, being confused about which parent to love, etc.), short-term effects that divorce may have on children include:

  • Increased dependency in young children
  • Increased independence in adolescents
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal
  • Behavioral issues
  • Poor academic performance
  • Aggression
  • Poor self-esteem

 

The above may be demonstrated by the child acting out, developing a lisp or stutter, wetting the bed, or acting violently, among other things.

Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

 If the above issues are not addressed, they may develop into long-term problems for the child. Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children, published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, highlights data suggesting that:

  • A problematic parent-child relationship may persist throughout the child’s life.
  • Children of divorce are more likely to express long-term discontent with their lives.
  • Moderate to severe clinical depression is not uncommon.
  • Children of divorce may have poorer physical health than children of non-divorced families.
  • Children of divorce may experience persistent problems with fears of betrayal, abandonment, and loss.
  • Children of divorce are affected socially as well as psychologically, and are more likely to exhibit earlier sexual intercourse, delinquent behaviors, lower socioeconomic status, and are more likely to give birth before marriage and divorce themselves.

Mitigating the Effects of Divorce on Children

 As a parent who is seeking a divorce, it is important that you take action to mitigate the negative short-term and long-term effects that divorce may have on your child(ren). It is suggested that you:

  • Never ask your child to make a choice about which parent he or she loves more.
  • Refrain from using your child as your emotional sounding board.
  • Never fight with your (ex)spouse in front of your child.
  • Try to minimize the stressors that your child is faced with.
  • Try to keep your child in the same home, same neighborhood, same school system, etc., if possible.
  • Never display anger with your spouse in front of your child.
  • Do not place your child in a position where he or she must pick sides in an argument.
  • Be sure your child knows that the divorce is not his or her fault.

Remind your children that both you and your former spouse love them very much. It is important to your children’s mental health that they maintain a healthy relationship with both you and your spouse.

Continue showing your children love and support no matter the outcome of divorce or a custody determination.

In many cases, seeking the help of a family counselor or child psychologist can be very useful. A mental health professional can provide you with advice on how to help your child cope with the divorce, and can work with your child to help him or her understand the divorce and the life changes that the child may be experiencing.

What a Family Law Attorney Can Do for You

Mark Gemma is a divorce attorney in Providence, RI. You can learn more about his practice at Gemma Law Firm

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