Why Divorce Is So Hard on Kids

From 1900-1930, the divorce rate in the USA was 1.1 out of 1,000 Americans. In the 1970’s it was 4, while in the 1980’s it was 5. Baby Boomers became the most divorced generation in USA history. Luckily today in 2022, the rate has dropped to 2.3 per 1,000 Americans. Perhaps the Baby Boomers’ children did learn from the mistakes of their parents. But the impact on all of our kids is the same, no matter what generation experienced divorce in their family.

Divorce is a difficult and emotional process for everyone involved, especially for children. When parents decide to end their marriage, it can have a significant impact on their children’s well-being and development.

Divorce affects children in various ways, and parents, along with educators and society as a whole, must understand these impacts.

The process of divorce itself can be a source of stress and anxiety for children. Court proceedings, custody battles, and conflicts between parents can create a hostile environment that further contributes to their emotional burden. The constant tension and uncertainty can have detrimental effects on children’s mental health. According to Family Means, parents not only need to realize new ways of relating to each other, but they need to learn new ways to parent their children.

Factors Influencing the Impact on Children

Age of the Child

The age of the child plays a significant role in how they perceive and are affected by divorce. Younger children may struggle with understanding the reasons behind the separation and may exhibit regressive behaviors or separation anxiety. Adolescents, on the other hand, may experience a range of emotions, including anger, resentment, and a sense of loss.

Parental Conflict and Cooperation

The level of conflict between parents during and after the divorce process can greatly influence how children cope with the situation. High levels of conflict can create a hostile environment that intensifies the negative impact of divorce. Conversely, cooperative, and amicable co-parenting can provide children with a sense of stability and security.

Custody Arrangements and Parental Involvement

The custody arrangements and the level of parental involvement also play a crucial role in the impact of divorce on children. When children have consistent and meaningful contact with both parents, it can help mitigate some of the negative effects. However, when one parent is largely absent or there are frequent conflicts over custody, children may experience a greater sense of loss and instability.

Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

  1. Emotional Turmoil and Instability

Divorce often brings emotional turmoil and instability into a child’s life. The separation of their parents can shatter their sense of security, leaving them feeling anxious, confused, and overwhelmed. Children may struggle to cope with the intense emotions they experience, leading to behavioral changes and difficulty concentrating on their studies.

  1. Disrupted Family Structure and Routine

Divorce disrupts the familiar family structure and routine that children rely on for stability and predictability. Suddenly, they may find themselves shuttling between two households, adapting to different rules, routines, and expectations. Such changes can be challenging for kids, as they long for stability and consistency.

  1. Loss of Trust and Security

When parents divorce, children often experience a profound loss of trust and security. They may question their own relationships and worry about the stability of future partnerships. Witnessing the breakdown of their parents’ marriage can shatter their belief in lifelong commitments, leaving them feeling vulnerable and uncertain about their own future relationships.

  1. Conflict and Tension

Divorce can lead to heightened conflict and tension between parents, which children are inevitably exposed to. Constant arguments, disagreements, and negative interactions can create a toxic environment for kids, leading to increased stress and emotional distress. The ongoing conflict may even result in the child feeling caught in the middle and pressured to take sides.

  1. Financial Struggles

Divorce often brings financial challenges for both parents, which can directly impact children’s well-being. The economic strain resulting from the separation can lead to a decline in the standard of living, limited access to resources, and a decrease in educational opportunities. Such financial struggles can exacerbate stress levels and negatively affect a child’s overall development.

  1. Co-Parenting Difficulties

Co-parenting after divorce can be a complex and demanding task. Parents may struggle with communication, cooperation, and decision-making, which can lead to inconsistencies in parenting styles and the enforcement of rules. These challenges can confuse and unsettle children, as they may receive mixed messages and struggle to adapt to different parenting approaches.

  1. Loss of Extended Family Connections

Divorce often results in the loss of extended family connections. Children may have to adjust to reduced contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins due to the physical separation between families. Losing these relationships can be emotionally challenging for children, as they may feel a sense of disconnection and loss.

  1. Social Stigma and Judgment

Unfortunately, children of divorce may also face social stigma and judgment from their peers, teachers, and even extended family members. Society’s perception of divorce can sometimes unfairly label children as “broken” or “damaged,” leading to feelings of shame and isolation. Such negative attitudes can further exacerbate the emotional impact of divorce on children.

  1. Academic Performance and School Adjustment

Divorce can significantly affect a child’s academic performance and school adjustment. The emotional distress and instability they experience may hinder their ability to concentrate, leading to decreased motivation and productivity in the classroom. Additionally, frequent changes in living arrangements and disruptions in their daily routine can also impact their ability to adapt to school life and establish a sense of belonging.

  1. Emotional Burden of Taking Sides

In situations where parents are in conflict during the divorce process, children often feel pressured to take sides. This places an enormous emotional burden on them, as they may feel torn between their parents’ needs and loyalties. Being caught in the middle can lead to feelings of guilt, confusion, and a sense of responsibility for the divorce.

  1. Loss of Intact Family

Divorce signifies the loss of an intact family unit for children. They may mourn the loss of what they once had and experience grief over the separation of their parents. The absence of a united family structure can create a void in their lives, impacting their emotional well-being and sense of identity.

  1. Adjusting to New Relationships

Divorce often introduces new relationships into a child’s life. Whether it’s a parent’s new partner or stepsiblings, adjusting to these changes can be challenging. Children may struggle to build rapport and trust with these new individuals, further complicating their emotional journey during and after the divorce.

  1. Long-Term Effects on Mental Health

The impact of divorce on children’s mental health can extend well into adulthood. Children of divorced parents may be at a higher risk for developing psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These long-term effects emphasize the importance of providing support and resources for children going through divorce.

  1. Developmental Milestones

Divorce can disrupt children’s attainment of developmental milestones. The emotional upheaval and instability caused by divorce may hinder their progress in various areas, including social, emotional, and cognitive development. It’s essential for parents and caregivers to be aware of these potential setbacks and provide appropriate support to mitigate their impact.

  1. Challenges in Trusting Relationships

The experience of divorce can create challenges for children when it comes to trusting and forming relationships. They may develop a fear of abandonment or struggle with intimacy due to the loss and upheaval they have experienced. Building healthy and trusting relationships can require additional effort and support for children of divorce.


Marc Joseph
Marc Joseph
Gramps Jeffrey’s children’s book, “I Don’t Want to Turn 3”, explores what goes through a toddler’s mind that parents are so desperate to understand. It is based on the true experiences he has had with his 6 grandchildren that were born 2 each to his 3 Millennial daughters. Gramps Jeffrey is the pen name for Marc Joseph whose first book “The Secrets of Retailing…How to Beat Wal-Mart” was written to help entrepreneurs and small businesses compete against the big guys. Arianna Huffington read his book and asked him to contribute to the Huffington Post. He has written over 100 articles about small businesses, education, the homeless, and several other nonprofit topics dear to all of us. Gramps is currently the co-founder of the new site which pulls together news and resources for the baby boomer community. The one thing baby boomers have in common is a connected shared experience. Our generation has an interest in travel, grandparenting, healthy eating, finance, retirement, caregiving, healthcare, dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, fitness, pickleball, volunteering, giving back, and the legacy we will leave. Gramps and his lovely wife Cathy live in Scottsdale, Arizona where 2 of his grandchildren live. 2 more live in Austin, Texas, and 2 in Orlando, Florida.

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