The Emotional Impact of Divorce on Children and How to Support Them

The Emotional Impact of Divorce on Children and How to Support Them

Discover the emotional toll divorce takes on children and effective ways for parents to provide support. Learn about the most common effects divorce has on mental health, academics, and behavior for children of all ages. 

  • Divorce affects children differently, but it has the potential to contribute to mental health issues, academic challenges, and behavioral changes.
  • Younger children are more likely to exhibit regressive behaviors, while teenagers often struggle with emotions and behavior.
  • The first year after the divorce is often the toughest for children.
  • Age plays a significant part in how children react to the divorce. 
  • Parents should consider bringing on professional help and support for children whose families are going through a divorce.

Effects of Divorce on Children 

Aspect Effects of Divorce on Children
Mental health difficulties Depression, anxiety, and social fear may occur.
Poor academic performance Divorce-related distractions may affect studies.
Difficulty adapting to change Frequent changes can challenge children.
Emotional sensitivity Children may experience a range of emotions.
Anger/irritability Agitation and anger may be directed at various targets.
Feelings of guilt Children may blame themselves for the divorce.
Destructive behavior Unaddressed conflict may lead to negative behaviors.
Loss of faith in marriage Witnessing divorce can influence future relationships.
First-year challenges The initial years are often the toughest for children.
Age-related reactions Effects vary by age and developmental stage.
Seeking help Professional support is crucial for children’s well-being.

How does divorce impact children’s mental health?

The divorce of their parents can lead to depression, anxiety, social fear, and even suicidal thoughts in children. Seeking professional help is essential.


Do children of different ages react differently to divorce?

Yes, a child’s age and developmental stage influence their reactions to divorce. Younger children often exhibit regressive behaviors in response to a divorce. Many teenagers have difficulties with emotions and behavior amidst and following their parents’ divorce.

What Are Some of the Effects of Divorce on Children?

Divorce impacts every member of the family unit. Like the parents who are divorcing, children may experience a variety of difficulties in connection with this fundamental and permanent shift in their family dynamics. 

As the divorcing parents discover new methods of interacting with one another, they are also picking up new parenting techniques. In addition to the challenges posed by the divorce, like figuring out custody logistics and asset distribution, the divorcing spouses need to learn to co-parent at a particularly challenging time for their children. 

While some kids adjust to divorce healthily and understandably, others could find it difficult.

The consequences of a parent’s divorce on their children might differ across ages and developmental stages, as well as from individual to individual. Because children have diverse temperaments, the impact of parents’ divorce may vary even among children in the same age range. 

Mental Health Difficulties Children Face Post-Divorce

A divorce causes a permanent split in the family unit that, throughout their childhood, has provided the kids with emotional stability and support. Naturally, this major change can bring about emotional consequences.  

The emotional consequences of divorce on children aren’t always fleeting or mild. Researchers have discovered links between the divorce of parents and mental health concerns in their children. 

For example, in a 2019 article published in World Psychology, researchers concluded that studies link parent divorce or separation to depression in children and that children (including adult children) of divorced parents are “over‐represented in the mental health system.” 

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Another research study, published in BMC Pediatrics in 2021, used a self-reporting questionnaire to understand the impact of divorce on mental health among 1,810 teenagers in Lebanon. The researchers concluded that teenagers whose parents were divorced showed higher rates of the following outcomes: 

The mental health impact of parental divorce can extend through adulthood. In a 15-year study published in BMC Psychiatry in 2017, researchers found that, among adolescents diagnosed with depression, those whose parents were separated were more likely to experience a recurrence of depression or be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in adulthood. 

Poor Performance in Academics Following Parents’ Divorce

For everyone in the family, adjusting to a divorce can be challenging. The difficulties children face following their parents’ divorce may spill over into their performance at school. 

Dealing with the emotional and logistical consequences of their parents’ divorce may distract students’ attention from their studies, leading to negative repercussions in their academic achievements. 

The more extensively their parents’ divorce and its consequences affect children, the less likely they are to be able to concentrate on their schoolwork. This may mean zoning out during lessons, neglecting to complete assignments, or failing to study effectively for tests. 

In a study published in the journal PLoS One (Public Library of Science One) in 2020, researchers concluded that a “robust” difference in GPA, amounting to up to 0.30 points, existed between Norwegian adolescents whose parents were divorced and those whose parents were still together. 

Difficulty Adapting to Change After Divorce

Divorce itself is a big change that, in many cases, leads to even more changes. Children whose parents get divorced may have to adjust to change more frequently.

Some examples of the changes children may face following their parents’ divorce include: 

  • Changing family relationships
  • Moving to a new home or new living arrangement
  • Switching to a new school 
  • Seeing less of friends because of custody arrangements, moving, or switching schools

Children of divorced parents may have difficulty adapting to one or more of these changes. 

Increased Emotional Sensitivity Following Divorce

Each member of a family going through a divorce may experience a range of emotions, and the kids are no exception. This shift may cause unpleasant feelings like the following: 

  • Grief 
  • Sadness 
  • Rage and anger
  • Worry
  • Fear
  • Confusion 
  • Guilt 

Going through the divorce of their parents can be overwhelming for children, raising their emotional sensitivity. 

It’s important for children whose families are going through a divorce to process their emotions healthily instead of bottling them up. Children need a safe place to express these feelings and the support of someone who will listen without interrupting, judging, or invalidating their emotions. 

Increased Emotional Sensitivity Following Divorce

Divorce-Related Anger/Irritability Issues in Children

When the divorce’s consequences feel too much to handle, children can become agitated and irritable. They may express this anger not only toward the circumstances of the divorce itself but also toward their parents, their friends, and others in their lives. It’s not unusual for children whose families are going through a divorce to act out. 

For some children, anger and irritability related to the divorce may subside after a relatively short time, like a matter of weeks. However, for other children, the anger issues that begin with parental divorce could become a long-lasting concern. 

Feelings of Guilt Regarding Separation of Parents

Children often ask their parents or themselves why their family is going through a divorce. They’ll search for explanations and, sometimes, wonder whether they’ve done something to cause the divorce. 

The guilt children may feel in the wake of their parents’ divorce can cause them to suffer from stress or feelings of despair. It’s important for children to be given context so they can understand, in a developmentally appropriate way, why their family is breaking up. With guidance, children can understand their part in the divorce and stop blaming themselves. 

Introduction of Destructive Behavior After Divorce

Some children act out in destructive ways following their parents’ divorce. Examples of these destructive behaviors include: 

  • Lying to and rebelling against parents 
  • Getting involved in criminal activities
  • Using drugs, including smoking cigarettes and taking illicit prescription drugs 
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors, especially at a young age 

Getting the proper support can help children deal with their parents’ divorce in healthy ways and reduce destructive behaviors that could have serious long-term effects on their future.  

Loss of Faith in Marriage and Family Unit Post-Divorce and Into Adulthood

Parental divorce may shake children’s faith in the entire institution of marriage and the family unit. Even if these children hope to have stable relationships of their own when they grow up, decades of research show that they are statistically more likely to get divorced themselves as adults, according to a 2019 article published in Psychology Today

Loss of Faith in Marriage and Family Unit Post-Divorce and Into Adulthood

According to some research studies, marriages between two children of divorced parents are nearly three times more likely to end in divorce compared to marriages between children from non-divorced households, the Psychology Today article reported.

Why the First Year After Divorce Is the Toughest For Children

The impact divorce has on children can be long-lasting, but for most families, the first year is the hardest, according to research cited in Scientific American. Over time, many children of divorced parents become accustomed to adjustments to their regular schedules and settle into their new living situations. Post-divorce life eventually becomes the new normal for the family. 

Some children may continue to struggle long-term with the effects of their parents’ divorce. When parents recognize the potential consequences, they can actively look for ways to help children cope with the effects of the divorce. 

Does Age Matter On Effect to Children Post Divorce?

Children’s reactions to divorce depend on factors like their age, cognitive capacities, emotional comprehension, and coping strategies.

Here’s how children in different age groups tend to react to divorces: 

  • Infants: Though they lack the cognitive ability to comprehend the idea of divorce, very young children may respond negatively to routine disruptions. Infants could be fussier and become anxious about strangers and separation.
  • Toddlers: When separated from caregivers due to divorce, toddlers may regress, exhibit food or sleep issues, or suffer more separation anxiety. 
  • Preschoolers: Regression and eating or sleep issues can also affect preschoolers. At this age, children may experience feelings of guilt over their caregivers’ divorce. They might have nightmares or develop a fear of being abandoned.
  • School-aged children: Children in this age group may blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. They often display changes in emotions, like fear of abandonment, as well as behavioral changes, like hostility. 
  • Teens: Although older kids and adolescents might be able to comprehend the reasons for the divorce, they could still find the separation hard to accept. They could feel bitterness, struggle more in school, express hostility, engage in drug abuse, and suffer from suicidal thoughts. 

How Professional Assistance Can Help Families Dealing With Divorce

The potential repercussions divorce can have on kids aren’t set in stone. Parents may not be able to change the circumstances of the divorce, but they can be proactive about providing the support their children need. Professional assistance in a variety of areas can help make this challenging time easier for families that are going through a divorce. 

Mental health experts can provide guidance and support tailored to each child’s needs. The divorcing spouses, too, may benefit from counseling to help them navigate this major transition in their lives. 

One way to reduce the emotional impact of divorce on every member of the family is to handle the legal aspects of dissolving the marriage as respectfully as possible from the start. Turning to caring and compassionate legal professionals to handle the divorce proceedings is one choice the divorcing spouses can make to help minimize contentious legal battles that could further amplify the impact of divorce on children. 

In Summary

Divorce can impact children’s mental health, academics, and behavior. Parents can support their kids through this difficult transition by understanding common reactions by age and seeking professional help.

Contact Us at Pedrick Law Group

For expert legal guidance and support during divorce proceedings, contact Pedrick Law Group. Our team can provide valuable assistance and ensure your children’s well-being is a top priority during this challenging time.

Call Now (818) 325-3934