Facts & Statistics

What Research Tells Us About the Effect of Divorce on Children

Divorce can be a pivotal experience for children, at times changing the trajectory of their lives. In fact, from a child’s perspective, divorce represents a loss of stability, and more importantly, a loss of a united family. Consequently, it’s not surprising that a divorce can cause a range of emotional responses in kids including everything from anger and frustration to anxiety and sadness. But the impact of divorce is not solely emotional. Divorce also can impact kids physically, psychologically, and academically.1 The following is a closer look at the impact divorce can have on children—even when divorce needs to happen. Parents who are aware of these consequences and take steps to help their kids not only cope with the situation but also heal from it will see fewer consequences from divorce.2

 

Physical Effects of Divorce on Children

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.  A 2011 study found that teens living with both biological parents tended to be more physically healthy than teens from homes without both biological parents present. The study relied on reports from both teens and their parents and it’s important to note that their responses were varied. However, researchers still found a stronger correlation between adolescent well-being and family structure than among parents or caregivers.  Regardless, 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 your kids healthy and well-cared for in the midst of a divorce should be a top priority for both parents.

Emotional Impact of Having Divorced Parents

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 create issues in children’s lives. For instance, a 2017 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. Likewise, adult children of divorce 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.

Meanwhile, it’s important to point out that children also can fair better after a divorce—especially when the divorce removes them from a high-conflict situation. In fact, they may even show improvements in well-being.6 So, if you’re living in a high conflict situation or one that involves abuse, don’t stay assuming it’s better for your children. In many cases, they may fare better after a divorce.  Regardless of the reason for the divorce, it’s important for parents to be reassuring. Children do best when they know that their parents are still going to be their parents. They need to know that they will still have parents who plan to be involved in their lives even though the marriage is ending.  In fact, research shows that children do better when parents can minimize conflict and cooperate on behalf of the kids. Considering the potential emotional consequences that children from divorced homes experience, you may want to find a counselor for your 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 and can be extremely helpful. If counseling is not an option, you may want to look into support groups or talk with your family doctor for recommendations. You also should watch for signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and bring those concerns to a doctor right away.

 

Children’s Academic Performance After Divorce

Research has consistently demonstrated that children in situations where their parents have been divorced may earn lower grades than their peers. Over the years, statistics on the educational effects of divorce support these findings. However, a 2019 study found that these effects are more likely to be experienced in families where divorce was not expected. In families with high conflict or where divorce is anticipated, for instance, the study found that the impact on academics was less recognizable.10 There are a number of reasons why academics may be impacted by divorce. For instance, children may miss classroom time for court dates and may move schools once the divorce is final. They also may 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. A 2014 literature review found that custodial mothers may lose as much as 25%-50% of their pre-divorce incomes. Recognizing that a divorce can impact a child’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 Divorce 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 parent’s marriage. Yet there are times when divorce is 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.1 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 joint custody. Divorce that leads to happier parents with two stable homes can be—and often is—better for children than unhappy and chaotic family life in a single home. What’s more, there is some research that suggests that children will adjust to divorce within two years of it occurring.

This fact is especially true if parents do what they can to keep their conflicts away from the kids and work to co-parent with the kids’ best interests in mind. In fact, research suggests that parents who recognize the risks associated with divorce and take a pro-active approach can build their kids’ resilience.  For instance, warm and nurturing parenting combined with discipline and limit-setting are powerful protective factors.2 Likewise, positive parent-child relationships characterized by warmth, supportiveness, effective problem-solving skills, positive communication, and low levels of negativity are consistently associated with low negative outcomes from divorce.  Establishing family routines and creating opportunities for one-on-one time communicates to kids that they are loved unconditionally.

  1. 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
  2. Clark B. Supporting the mental health of children and youth of separating parentsPaediatr Child Health. 2013;18(7):373-377.
  3. Langton CE, Berger LM. Family Structure and Adolescent Physical Health, Behavior, and Emotional Well-BeingSoc Serv Rev. 2011;85(3):323-357. doi:10.1086/661922
  4. Perales F, Johnson SE, Baxter J, Lawrence D, Zubrick SR. Family structure and childhood mental disorders: New findings from AustraliaSoc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2017;52(4):423-433. doi:10.1007/s00127-016-1328-y
  5. Fuller-Thomson E, Dalton AD. Suicidal ideation among individuals whose parents have divorced: Findings from a representative Canadian community surveyPsychiatry Res. 2011;187(1-2):150-155. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2010.12.004
  6. Amato PR, Kane JB, James S. Reconsidering the “Good Divorce”Fam Relat. 2011;60(5):511-524. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00666.x
  7. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Children and Divorce. Updated January 2017.
  8. Cohen GJ, Weitzman CC. Helping Children and Families Deal With Divorce and SeparationPediatrics. 2016;138(6):e20163020. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3020
  9. Brand JE, Moore R, Song X, Xie Y. Why Does Parental Divorce Lower Children’s Educational Attainment? A Causal Mediation AnalysisSociol Sci. 2019;6:264-292. doi:10.15195/v6.a11
  10. Brand JE, Moore R, Song X, Xie Y. Parental divorce is not uniformly disruptive to children’s educational attainmentProc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2019;116(15):7266-7271. doi:10.1073/pnas.1813049116
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Marriage and Divorce. Updated January 20, 2017.
  12. American Psychological Association. Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible. 2013.
  13. Becher EH, Kim H. Cronin SE, et al. Positive Parenting and Parental Conflict: Contributions to Resilient Coparenting During DivorceFam Relat. 2019;68:150-164. doi:10.1111/fare.12349

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The history of our
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The Cognitive Institute of Dallas was founded in 2001 by Dr. Rachel Levitch, our Executive Director. We seek a world where every child has the support and resources to reach their full potential — a world where every child has a loving and secure home.

The Cogntive Institute of Dallas was founded
Agency became licensed
Homlessness program opened
Domestic violence program opened
Family counseling and adoption program opened
With Healthy Families First assistance program began
Founder Dr. Rachel Levitch understanding and concerned with service and funding reaching communities.
Addressing parenting struggles to become the best quality parent available to them.
Partnering with Habitat for Humanity.
Understanding services to include communication, anger management, and long-term strategies for parents.
In response to COVID-19 our online broadcasting and families’ first features.

2003
2005
2010
2015
2019

How we help
families

5

Home Office

Dallas, United States, TX

info@cognitiveinstituteodallas.org

It’s natural for parents to advise their children to pursue the safe, predictable, and practical route.  Parents do this because they don’t want their children to experience uncertainty or discomfort.  This is the good path. But is it the best path?  In most cases, no. The best path is usually the one that’s full of challenges, obstacles, and disappointments.

Winning parents understand that it’s more important to build a relationship with their child than it is to find innovative ways to control her behavior.  Just because your child obeys your instructions doesn’t mean that you’re a world-class parent. It just means that your child is obedient.  If this obedience comes at the cost of your parent-child relationship, the tradeoff might not be worth it.

Parents often think that they’re responsible for their children.  Responsible for their academic performance, for their behavior, for their social etiquette.  But no—parents are only responsible to their children. Parents are responsible to their children by giving them love and support and a good home environment.  Children are responsible for their own lives. If your child misbehaves in school, she’s the one who will be punished, not you. Successful parents recognize that they aren’t responsible for their children, so these parents don’t carry a burden that they were never meant to carry anyway.

Check out our
leadership list

Robert Green

Robert Green

Executive director
Miranda Grey

Miranda Grey

Research professor
Roberta Stewart

Roberta Stewart

Digital media director

Our experience
in numbers

0%
Adoption
0%
Consultation
0%
Information and resources
0%
Success stories

The history of our
company

The Cognitive Institute of Dallas was founded in 2001 by Dr. Rachel Levitch, our Executive Director. We seek a world where every child has the support and resources to reach their full potential — a world where every child has a loving and secure home.

The Cogntive Institute of Dallas was founded
Agency became licensed
Homlessness program opened
Domestic violence program opened
Family counseling and adoption program opened
With Healthy Families First assistance program began
Founder Dr. Rachel Levitch understanding and concerned with service and funding reaching communities.
Addressing parenting struggles to become the best quality parent available to them.
Partnering with Habitat for Humanity.
Understanding services to include communication, anger management, and long-term strategies for parents.
In response to COVID-19 our online broadcasting and families’ first features.

2003
2005
2010
2015
2019

How we help
families

5

Home Office

Dallas, United States, TX

info@cognitiveinstituteodallas.org