Effects of Divorce on Children

Understanding the effects of divorce on children can be important before considering how to best go about starting the divorce process.

Divorce is a very turbulent and disturbing time for the parents involved. Often children get embroiled in the legal separation of parents which could lead to a negative impact of divorce on children. While the parents may not continue loving each other, children could also be negatively affected. A life of a child may change significantly following the divorce of their parent.

Statistics in the UK show that at least half of the couples who divorce have at least one child under the age of 16 and 20% of these children are under 5 years old. However, the statistics concentrate on legal divorces and do not take into account separation where couples were unmarried.

Article Contents

What are effects of divorce on children?

Many people often wonder what the effects of divorce on children are. A child also has feelings and the separation of parents can often lead to negative feelings. Children can also be emotionally affected during a divorce. Children often have feelings of loss, anger, confusion, anxiety and many others. A child may feel a sense of loss. For some children a divorce or separation also means as well as losing their home they also lose the way of their life. Children often may have experienced a stable family unit and divorce is a significant change which could impact the children.

Children can often feel fearful of being left alone as they may feel that if one parent has gone out of their life the other parent may do the same. The separation and divorce of parents can also lead to children feeling rejected, insecure and torn between both parents. These feelings for a child can often be aggravated if they have to move home and move school which may also lead to a financial strain on their life.

Understanding the impact of divorce on children

As a result of the above emotional and psychological effects there are also physical effects of divorce on children. Our Family Law specialists at Kabir Family Law have experienced the following impact of divorce on children:

  • Children from divorced or separated homes often suffer academically. Their psychological effects of separation can often lead to a lack of concentration on their studies making it difficult for them to study.
  • Children and especially teens from divorced and separated households are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol abuse as well as sexual intercourse.
  • Children who have experienced a divorce or separation are often likely to commit crime leading them to juvenile prisons.
  • As a result of the separation or divorce a household income is likely to drop significantly which could result in more children living in poverty. The effects of divorce on a 6-year-old could be more severe if they are to suffer from poverty, given that they are just beginning their education and may be deprived of basic accessories such as adequate school clothing and equipment.
  • Children from divorced backgrounds are likely to experience illness more frequently and can often recover slower than usual which could also affect their daily living and education.

Does the effects of divorce on children impact children at different ages?

The effects of divorce on children can impact children at different ages. The age at which a child’s parents divorce can impact on how a child responds to a divorce and the effects it can have on a child.

New-born children and children in their infancy up to the age of 18 months are able to feel the tension in the family home between their parents. However, such small children are unable to understand the reasoning behind the arguments. Young children up to the age of 18 months are likely to become irritable and clingy. Such young children tend to regress and show signs of developmental delay. Children at this age need consistency and familiarity. Normal daily routine should be provided particularly regarding sleep and meals for children of this age. Extra time should also be spent holding young children and providing physical comfort.

On the other hand, children who are toddlers or pre-schoolers and aged between 18 months and 6 years react differently. The effects of divorce on 6 year old could be quite significant. Children of this age group share the main bond with their parents and understand what is happening. They are more likely to think they are responsible for their parent’s separation. In return these children often cry more and want more attention than usual. The effects of divorce on 6 year old can include the child returning to thumb sucking, resisting toilet training and struggle to sleep or sleep alone at night. With toddlers and pre-schoolers, parents should develop normal routines which the child can follow. It is important to spend quality time with the child and provide extra attention to them. 

The effects of divorce on 8 year old children and those up to 11 years differ from the effects of those on younger children. School age children often begin maturing. They would have usually grown up in a nurturing environment. The effects of divorce on 8 year old include developing a fear of being abandoned. They are more likely to understand the conflicts of their parents. These children will also worry about losing a parent. The effects of divorce on 8 year old also result them in feeling that their parents are mean or selfish and express their anger in various ways including at school. At this age children can become anxious, withdrawn and depressed. In order to help these children parents should provide a sense of security. Each parent should spend quality time with the child and request the children to be open about their feeling. Children should also be reassured that they are loved by both parents and will not be abandoned.

Teenagers whose parents suffer from divorce will often have academic problems such as low grades, have trouble sleeping, increased stress, anger at one or both parents and suffer from depression. Teenagers are likely to feel neglected and may end up resorting to substance or alcohol abuse. Teenagers will require a lot of support from parents. Parents should monitor the behaviour of teenagers to ensure they do not resort to bad habits. Teenagers will often benefit from speaking to parents to discuss their feelings. Parents should show genuine interest in teenage children’s activities. If teenagers react negatively to a divorce then they may benefit from speaking to health professions about the changes they are enduring and how to help them sort their feelings out. Teenagers should not be neglected otherwise it can impact the rest of their life ahead.

A survey carried out by the Office of National Statistics highlighted that more than 60% of children felt they were not part of their parent’s decision making process for their separation or divorce. The survey also suggested that 88% of the children agreed it was important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between parents. When asked what they would most like to have changed about a divorce, 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to criticise each other in front of them.

It is important to note that a child may not just suffer during the process of divorce. Separation can have a long term effect on children and the aftermath of their parent’s divorce or separation could live with them for many years to come. Therefore the effects of divorce on 8 year old child may not be visible until they reach their teens when they are able to express their feelings.

Common effects of divorce on children that parents don’t recognise

Divorcing parents are often tied up in their own battles concerning the divorce proceedings and financial settlements. For parents it can be difficult to understand the effects of divorce on children. Parents could be suffering emotionally and may not understand the feelings of their children. Unknowingly this can lead to children believing they are not loved. As a result of parents failing to understand their children’s emotions children can often feel neglected.

Separating parents may find it difficult to make time to discuss the separation and other issues with their children. Due to this children may develop feelings of anger and frustration which they may look to take out in school or on friends. As parents may not be in a position to recognise the effect of divorce on children, children are more likely to suffer academically and resort to substance or alcohol abuse following their feelings of not being loved and neglected.

Common effects of divorce on children that parents don’t act on

Parents may often notice and realise the impact of divorce on children. Quite often parents may notice behavioural changes. However due to the disturbance the parents are suffering from they may fail to act upon the impact of divorce on children.

Separating parents may not be able to make sufficient time to discuss the emotional and behavioural effect their children are suffering from. If parents act on this they can often seek professional help from GP or health advisers who may be able to assist the children. With early assistance and help children are likely to recover from the impact of divorce.

Parents also may note that their children are suffering academically and during their divorce may fail to act on this. Quite often children who suffer academically are likely to develop bad habits which could change their life. Parents are encouraged to discuss these issues with their children from the outset to ensure their child does not suffer from long term effects which would affect their future life.

If parents notice behavioural changes in children they should monitor children. Children from divorced families are likely to resort to substance abuse, alcohol or criminal activities. It is therefore essential that parents monitor their children’s behaviour to avoid their children landing in trouble.

What support should I provide to my children during my divorce?

Parents should ensure during their difficult time of divorce they support their children to ensure the effects of divorce on children are very minimal. The following may help children who are witnessing their parent’s divorce.

  • Keep legal talks, conflicts and discussions away from the children
  • Try and minimise the disruption caused to a child’s routine and daily life
  • Avoid blame conversations away from children which may create feelings of hate and lack of trust
  • Try and ensure both parents are involved in the children’s life to provide them with a sense of security.

Ensure you help your child cope better during divorce

Separation and divorce can in some situations be inevitable, however parents can try and minimise the impact of divorce on children by helping their children cope better. This can be done by ensuring children that their feelings are important to parents and will be taken seriously. Children should be encouraged to express their feelings of their parents separating rather than concealing these feelings within which could cause them significant psychological damage.

Provide support to your children at all times

Children should be offered support and time by parents. Often carrying out activities which children enjoy can lead to them forget about the situation around them and in turn will ensure they remain happy and healthy. Parents are also recommended to keep themselves happy and to try and manage their physical and mental stress. The better the parents are able to cope with their separation, the more likely they are able to help their children cope. Many websites and organisations including the NSPCC also provide guidance on supporting your children during a divorce.

In conclusion we understand that feelings and relationships change and sometimes divorce and separation may be the only way forward to allow partners to move on in their life. During this time parents should ensure they behave adequately when separating to ensure their relationship with their children is not affected.

Children should be reassured that whatever the situation is their views are important and regardless of where they remain they will always be loved by their parents.

How to deal with the effects of divorce on children

Quite often parents will be experiencing a difficult time during their divorce. However, parents should ensure their children are provided with help on dealing with the effects of divorce. Our family lawyers from their experienced have provided the following tips on how to deal with the effects of divorce on children:

  • Be open and talk – your children need to know that they are able to talk to you and ask questions. This will prompt them to talking to you about their feelings which can be addressed at an early stage.
  • Reassure your children – there can be nothing worse than your child feeling they are not loved. Constant reassurance will provide them with emotional support and children will believe they are still loved and cared for.
  • Make time to spend with your children – You may be busy with dealing with your divorce, however your children need your time. Children who stay alone during a divorce can often suffer more from the effects of divorce.
  • Make as few changes as possible. Stability in a child’s life can often assist in preventing them from developing negative feelings. The more stability a child has the more likely they are to cope with the divorce better.
  • Protect your children from adult worries – This is one of the best advice for parents to help their children deal with divorce better. Children should only be provided with information they are able to understand. Don’t drag your children in to adult arguments or fights.

If you are still unable to help your child cope with your divorce, then you may want to seek outside help. This could be from family members or other professional such as your GP or family counselling. Many separating parents are unaware that you GP or child counsellors are able to provide support and advice to your children on helping them cope better. Do not neglect your children during your divorce and ensure they are provided with the support they need. Most children can adapt well to their new circumstances if they are provided with support and assistance from the outset.  

Effects of divorce on children for grandparents

Grand parents are often forgotten when parents separate. They are usually the last person a parent will consider when dealing with their divorce. This can have a negative effect of children as they will usually be deprived of the love and affection of their grandparent. Parents during divorce fail to understand that grandparents can provide emotional and financial support the grandchildren may need. Quite often the impact of divorce on children becomes more serious when children are neglected. Parents should therefore encourage their children to maintain their bond and relationship with their grandparents which could assist children in coping better with the divorce.

Grandparents can offer stability and reassurance to their grandchildren whilst the parents are tied up in resolving their divorce and finances. Children who remain in contact with their grandparents during their parents divorce are likely to cope better emotionally and academically knowing they have some support behind them.

Contact our family law specialists for legal advice today

If you are a concerned parent who is undergoing divorce and would like to discuss more about your children and how you could help them cope better with your divorce, contact us on 0330 094 5880 or let us call you back. Our family law experts will ensure we listen to you with empathy and will provide you with a free initial consultation.

With family lawyers in Northampton as well as nationally across Newcastle, York, Oxford and London.