How Does Divorce Affect Children?

Updated on June 24, 2022
Updated: June 8, 2022

Nearly 50% of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce. With a divorce rate that high, it is inevitable that children will get caught in the middle. The divorce process can be a long and emotionally trying one, and it can be particularly difficult and disruptive for the lives of children who are involved. It is natural for parents in this situation to have the added stress of worrying about how their children will cope with the changes to come. 

Children of parents going through a divorce can face a wide range of psychological effects. While some will adapt to the situation quickly and return to their old selves, others may take more time or even deal with lifelong issues as a result. Fortunately, attentive parents can employ a number of parenting strategies to help their children adapt to the changes a divorce will bring. 

If you are considering a divorce, one of the best decisions you can make is to hire an experienced divorce attorney. At Tommalieh Law we have an in depth understanding of family law and the common pitfalls you will encounter throughout the divorce process. Call us today or schedule an appointment online for a free initial consultation to see what we can do for you.

How to Tell Your Kids You Are Getting a Divorce

Divorce is a difficult time for everyone involved but can be particularly tough on the children. Telling your kids about divorce is likely to be an incredibly difficult conversation, but is also a necessary step for you to take. Children can be far more sensitive and intuitive toward complicated emotional situations than many adults think, and they should hear the news from you rather than a third party.

Older children are also likely to remember this conversation for the rest of their lives, including how you broke the news to them and where you were at the time. With this in mind, you should take the time to plan out how you will tell them and work with your spouse if possible to deliver the news. 

Following the steps below can help you have a productive discussion with your children regarding your divorce plans:

Related Content: How to find the best child custody lawyer

Know What You Will Say

Plan ahead for this conversation. You will want to have an idea of what you intend to say to your children before sitting down. This can help you navigate the conversation in a controlled and prepared manner, which can help keep things on track.

Tell Your Children at the Same Time

Your children should all be present for this conversation. You don't want to discuss your divorce with one and have another find out before you can talk to them. Get everyone together at the same time, and go through your divorce plan with everyone involved. 

Do Not Assign Blame

Regardless of what led to the decision to get a divorce, you should avoid assigning blame when you talk with your children. They should not get caught up in marital disagreements or have their view of one parent skewed by what the other says during this difficult time. 

Let Them Know What Changes to Expect

This is particularly critical for older children or teenagers. They have set routines and will likely be upset that an event entirely outside of their control will disrupt their lives. You should be clear and upfront with them about what will change for them as well as what will stay the same. They should not leave this conversation with false expectations. 

Encourage Their Questions, but Don't Push For Them

Your children will likely have questions during this conversation, and you should be open to them. This will be a major change in their lives and they deserve to have their questions answered. It is also possible, however, that they will be overwhelmed by the situation and may need time to absorb and process everything. Encourage them to ask questions, but don't pressure them if they don't come up with any. It may take them some time, and you should be prepared to face questions down the road as they accept the new normal. 

Give Them Time and Space

A divorce will likely be one of the biggest events in your children's lives. It is a new and uncertain time for them and it will likely take time to come to terms with what exactly it means. Give them the time they need to process the information and accept the changes that are coming.

Give Them Reassurance

Let them know that everything will be okay. Divorce can be traumatic for your children and they will need support to get through it. It will be your responsibility to offer reassurances moving forward. 

Accept Their Reactions

Different children will react to the news in different ways. This can be driven by their personalities, their ages, and other factors. Whether they shut down and don't want to talk, get upset, get angry, or any other reaction they might have when you break the news to them, accept it and acknowledge their response as normal. Allow them to process the divorce in their own way, and express their feelings in a way that is natural to them. 

How Does Divorce Affect Children

Emotional Affects a Divorce can Have on a Child

The divorce process is an emotional one for not just the spouses, but especially for the children involved. This will be a completely new experience that they have no say in, and they may be scared and confused by what it means. Age can have a particularly strong influence on how children are impacted by a divorce.

Very young children will likely have difficulty understanding why things are changing and why they are suddenly moving between two different homes. It is common for them to be concerned about their relationship with their parents; they are likely to feel that if you and your spouse can stop loving one another then you may stop loving them as well. 

Children in grade school are likely to blame themselves for the divorce. It is common for them to fear that their behavior drove you to divorce or that they did something wrong that caused the situation. 

Teenagers are at a point in their lives where they are trying to discover themselves and are working to become more independent. Divorce is a situation fully outside of their control that will bring major life changes for them, and it is common for them to react with anger when they are told. It is common for them to assign blame to one parent, or to hold a grudge against one or both parents for the impact it will have on their lives. 

Children of divorce experience the process in different ways, each unique to the family situation and the individual child. In some cases, the child may actually be happy that a divorce is taking place if they feel it will ease parental conflict and lead to fewer arguments. 

The First Year is Often the Hardest

It is no surprise that children of divorce typically have the hardest time in the first year. The sudden break in what was otherwise a consistent routine for them can lead to anger, shock, and anxiety over the abrupt changes. The good news is that most kids tend to adapt well to their new situations as they get accustomed to the new routines and living situations. 

Unfortunately, this is not universal. A small percentage of children may never bounce back to their normal selves. They may have trouble adapting and could face long-term, possibly lifelong, issues following the divorce. 

Mental Health Concerns

The divorce process can increase the likelihood that children will experience mental health problems. This trend holds true with no regard for age or gender. While some children will adapt quickly and bounce back within a relatively short time, feelings of anxiety and depression have been found to be higher among children with divorced parents. 

Behavioral Issues

Children of divorce can have a difficult time adjusting to their new situation and may experience higher rates of delinquency, misconduct, and impulsive or aggressive behavior. This increase in destructive behavior can lead to difficulty in peer-to-peer interactions for them. 

Best Age of a Child for Parents to Get a Divorce

It is a popular belief that children who are too young to form real memories will escape the divorce process with fewer issues than older children. The idea is that if they have no recollection of a previous family structure or of the marital conflict and custody arguments, these issues should not impact them. This is, unfortunately, a misconception. 

Children are far more emotionally intuitive than many give them credit for. Even kids as young as 2 years old are developing memories and becoming grounded in their daily routines. While they may not be able to process exactly what is happening in their lives, they will be able to notice and respond to the changes on an emotional level. It has been found that the effects of divorce on children can lead to an emotionally traumatic response at some point in their lives, with age being an insignificant factor. The effects of parental divorce on children seem to stem less from their age at the time, and depend more on how the divorce is handled by both parents. 

How to Help a Child Adjust After a Divorce

Parental divorce is an emotionally traumatizing experience for children and can have unintended lifelong effects on them. While you may not be able to completely negate the impact, there are certain steps you can take to help your child adjust after a divorce.

Do Not Put Your Children in the Middle

The divorce process can be an extremely painful one, but it is your responsibility as a parent to put the emotional well-being of your children first. Trying to compete with your spouse, out-parent them, convincing your children you love them more, or using your child to get back at your spouse will only serve to do emotional damage in the long run. Even using them as a middleman to communicate with your ex is a bad idea. These actions can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety rates in your children. 

Cooperative Parenting

Conflict between parents can be highly traumatizing for children after divorce. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your divorce, you should try to work with the other parent to develop a civil method of communication and build good co-parenting skills. Even if conflict between the two of you is inevitable, you should make it a priority to keep your children out of it. 

Consistent Discipline

Many parents try to compensate for the absence of the other by giving their children greater freedom to act as they please. This can have a negative impact on their development in the long run. Both parents should work to develop consistency in their disciplinary action, as it can help reduce delinquent behavior as the child grows up. 

Spend Quality Time With Your Children

The change in family dynamics that a divorce brings can be confusing for many children. Make an effort to spend more time with them. Use this as an opportunity to address any concerns they might have and let them know that nothing about how you or your ex-spouse feels about the will change. By giving them more information and allowing them to ask questions, you can help prevent them from overthinking the situation and trying to assign blame where it does not belong. 

The divorce process can have a number of varying, long-lasting effects on children. It is important that you take the time to address this and help them navigate and manage the new emotions they are feeling. 

Related Content: Illinois Divorce Checklist

Work With an Experienced Divorce Lawyer

Divorce proceedings can be lengthy and difficult affairs. Even without the emotional impact they bring, many divorces can get messy when it comes time to work out asset division, particularly custody and child support agreements. By working with an experienced divorce attorney, you can use the extensive knowledge they bring to the table to work through the different issues more quickly and with a better outcome, leaving you with more time to focus on your children's long-term outcomes.

Contact a skilled divorce lawyer at Tommalieh Law today to schedule an appointment for a free case consultation. We will help you fully understand your situation and help you navigate the issues you are likely to face throughout the divorce process.

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