What are the Effects of Divorce on Children

Every divorce presents a turning point in a child’s life.

The world as they know it changes and becomes another place that, temporarily or otherwise, is perceived as unstable, uncertain and even ugly as their physical environment changes but also, and more importantly, as they live through the dismantling of what was once their closest and most firmest relationship unit.

For the parents, the bottom line is that a “failed” marriage leads to other losses: loss of financial stability, material belongings (e.g. the family home), loss of the future they had once planned for.

For the child it’s a huge bag of losses too as, aside from the family unit they once knew, the repercussions of their parents’ divorce can continue for years.

New lovers, partners or spouses may come and go, each break-up bringing a new world of change, turmoil and anxiety with the child experiencing more loss of stability and constancy. 

The effect of divorce on your child’s entire being can span from mild to acute. And when we speak of ‘mild’ we mean a reaction that is so mild that you may miss it and it’s only when someone else points it out to you that you realise that yes, indeed there has been an change or an impact.

The impact of divorce on children can also range from short-term to long-term.

I recall hearing a man in his 30s being interviewed on the radio, stating that his parents’ divorce was the most difficult time in his life, despite the fact that he had lost his mother, whom he loved dearly, just a couple of years prior to the interview. The effects of his parents’ divorce, he said, were still with him mainly because of the way his parents treated one another post-divorce.

  • Children from the same family may be affected differently by the experience of your divorce
  • None of the effects apply to all children of divorce. Some may be more common than others, while others quite rare
  • No child has ever suffered from all the effects of divorce.

The change to a child’s life that divorce brings about is massive. One of the most obvious, that everyone around can see and acknowledge, is the transformation in living arrangements. But there’s more to it than that.

There is, for instance, the fact that the children have seen their parents go from being married and living together to breaking up, living separately and perhaps even getting involved in more and bigger arguments.

The children witness the changes that occur in their parents too: their desperation, their crying and their anger. They get to see a side of their parents that they probably didn’t know existed before.

They also have to learn how to live without the continuous presence of one parent while they live with the other. A vacuum and void have been created in their daily lives.

“In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.” -Dr Carl Pickhardt

 Here’s a brief summary of some of the effects of divorce on children aged up to 9 and those aged 9–13.


Up to 9 From 9–13
As family is still very much the focus of their lives – both social and in the home – there may be more need for parental care, e.g. crying at bedtimes, more clinginess than usual, and an increase in or re-emergence of tantrums  With your 9+ child you may notice an almost sudden rush to independence, greater self-sufficiency, a need to spend more time with friends and others outside the family, and taking care of his own needs when at home, including putting him/herself to bed
Some regression in abilities and milestones recently achieved, e.g. tying of shoelaces, eating habits, bedwetting (necessitating more parental care) The response here may be one of anger, aggression and rebellion. He may want to get back at his parents for breaking up his life
Believes and wishes that parents could get back together – and this could last a while Able to accept and come to terms with the divorce and separation much more quickly
Separation anxieties may be evident during transition from one parent to the other as well as at school drop-off Likely to be indifferent to or discount family rules and discipline
Has a strong need to feel the family connection once again, and is very likely to see the divorce as their fault May show their distress by withdrawing into themselves and avoiding time with the family
Difficulty in concentrating at school Difficulty in concentrating at school

If you’re concerned about your child do contact me and let’s get it all sorted.


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