How Divorce Affects Children

Divorce doesn’t just affect the divorcing couple—it can also affect your children. Children of divorce can suffer in the following ways because of parental divorce.

  • In the short term, children may struggle with mental health issues. During or after their parent’s divorce, children may develop anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. These issues can also lead to behavioral issues or distress.
  • Children may lash out at their parents or school because of irritability or mood swings caused by the divorce. On the other hand, some kids may withdraw or shut down.
  • Children of divorce may suffer academically. Due to mental health or behavioral issues as well as stress, a lack of motivation, or other concerns, children may not apply themselves in school, which can lead to decreases in their grades, which can be extremely concerning especially for older minors.
  • Children may also lose interest in activities they usually enjoy. After the divorce, your child may withdraw socially and not want to engage in activities or extracurriculars they enjoy; this may be because they feel like no one understands what they’re going through or because of other emotional struggles.
  • Children may engage in more reckless or risky behavior. This can be an act of rebellion or anger but may also be an unhealthy way a child tries to process or handle their emotions.

Age-Based Psychological & Emotional Effects of Divorce on Children

During the first two years after the divorce, children reportedly struggle the most with their parents’ divorce; in the following years, children often bounce back.

How your child struggles and is affected by the divorce can vary based on their age. Below, we outline how your child might be affected based on their age.

  • From birth to 18 months old, children often struggle with emotional outbursts as they may feel the tension or stress of their parents. During and after a divorce, children of this age can also be more clingy or irritable than usual.
  • From 18 months to age three, children will likely still not fully grasp what is happening but can struggle with blaming their parents and acting out because of all the changes to their routine. Divorcing parents with children this age may notice their child throws more tantrums, cries more often, or constantly acts out or asks for attention; children may also resist potty training or engage in previously corrected behaviors (i.e. fighting sleep, relying on a pacifier, etc.).
  • From age three to six, children may have nightmares as well as struggles with feelings of uncertainty and abandonment. Because they are still learning how to identify emotions, they may need more help with understanding and processing their emotions.
  • From age six to 11, children can struggle with anxiety and stress caused by a fear of abandonment; they may also fanaticize about their parents reuniting. As they struggle emotionally, children may also blame their parents for the divorce or their emotional struggles and will act out or withdraw.
  • From age 12 to 18, children often struggle with healthily processing their emotions and often engage in risky behaviors. They also often shut out their parents.

Surprisingly Favorable Effects of Divorce on Children

It is important to note that divorce doesn’t ruin children as many parents fear. Divorce can also have a surprisingly positive impact on children, including:

  • Having well-developed relationships with their parents and siblings. During and after the divorce, children often develop a stronger relationships with their family members. While families often experience growing pains while they get accustomed to their new normal, children can benefit from the change. From creating new traditions to getting to spend more one-on-one time with parents and/or siblings to having even more support, they can feel safer and more secure in their familial relationships as the relationship remain intact even after the divorce.
  • Developing a better understanding of healthy boundaries. As your child watches you and their other parent set boundaries, they can learn respectful ways to set and enforce boundaries. As changes to their schedule and what each parent is allowed access to change, children can also learn more about boundaries and responsibility.
  • Benefiting from emotionally healthy parents. If children were often exposed to parental conflict or negative emotions, they may have struggled emotionally (i.e. feeling angry with one parent, isolated, etc.). Post-divorce parental conflict may decrease, which can benefit the child’s and parents’ emotional health.
  • Being more relaxed. While children may need time to adjust to the change in family dynamics and daily life post-divorce, parents may notice their children are happier or more relaxed. Children can feel parental stress, and even if they do not fully comprehend what the tension is or what is causing your distress, they can pick up on your negative emotions. As you are more relaxed and at peace, they can benefit from your improved well-being.
  • Becoming more self-sufficient. Children of divorce can be very resilient and can often learn to rely on their own skills to complete certain tasks and jobs.

Get Legal Help

At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, our attorneys have committed ourselves entirely to practicing family law. Whether you need help with child custody, child support, or another divorce-related matter, our firm is here and equipped to help you work to achieve favorable results.

Call (949) 565-4158 or reach out online today to discuss your case with our team.