Psychological Effects of a Divorce on Children


There comes a time when a marriage cannot be salvaged and the parents have to go through a divorce or a separation. This is because the parents cannot tolerate each other and the situation becomes irreconcilable. Although the parents suffer a lot during this situation, the children are also very affected and this may result in some psychological problems which are brought about by the fact that the situation affects the children very much psychologically. It is important to note that a significant percentage of the children strongly oppose their parents divorcing.

Although there is a small percentage of children who may support their parents’ divorce, this is because the children would want the suffering that is brought about by the current marriage situation to come to an end. The parents sometimes are involved with very hurtful behaviors for the children. This is because they are sometimes involved in trading insults, physical violence and emotional suffering which is easily extended to the children. This is one of the reasons why the children would want the suffering to hence their support for a divorce. It is important to note that only a very percentage of childrensupports their parents’ divorce.

Statement of the Problem

The parents may not realize that when they are undergoing a divorce that they subject their children to various psychological problems. The children are exposed to various stressing situations and this can be attributed to the children having the knowledge that things will never be the same again. The uncertainties of the future are very frightening and wrecking to the children. The children will have to cope with the fact that they cannot spend enough time with one of the parents as they have been used to. This is only one of the changes that the children will be subjected to considering that they will have homes, schools and sometimes even towns. The children may be forced to live a decreased standard of living and at the same time have more responsibilities. This is because one parent may not be offering sufficient physical and psychological availability because he or she has to act as both parents at the same time trying to find the daily bread.

Purpose of the study

The objective of this study is to investigate the effects that a divorce has on children. The paper will also look into how various age groups of children are affected by dissolution of the family. The paper will into the future of the kids in various age groups in terms of the psychological effects and their outcomes.

Significance of the Study

The study is important because it will highlight to parents what it is like for a child to go through a parental divorce. It will give divorced parents insights into what the child is going through and how he or she can be helped in dealing with the problem. It will also give the parents an overview of the psychological effects of a divorce on children and how these problems can be diagnosed and how they can be treated. Most importantly is how they can be prevented and avoided.


The research was conducted in the manner that children from both divorced and non-divorced families were studied and interviewed. Also interviewed were the parents and the teachers who deal with the children on a day-to-day basis. Counseling psychologists were also interviewed about the number of children who had psychological problems and the ratio in which these children were from divorced and non-divorced families.

The population of the study was all children who were from divorced families. The study took a sample of children between the toddler age and the adolescent age. This means that the study took the sample of the children aged between six and sixteen years. However, the study took the assumption that all children do not support their parents divorcing and strongly oppose the idea of divorce. Divorce can also bring about a strained relationship between the parents and the children.

Effects of a divorce on children

There are various effects that are subjected to children when their parents’ divorce and sometimes these children need the services of psychologists. This is because the effects range from just a simple anger to a case of severe depression and the help and service of a counseling psychologist are necessary so that the children can return to normal life after coping with the divorce of his or her parents. It is important to note that more than sseventy-five percent of the children do not support their parents’ divorcing and on the contrary strongly oppose the separation. Another fifteen percent of children who are present when their parents are fighting either verbally or physically may be forced to support the divorce but not because they want the parents to be separated but rather so that the fighting can stop which greatly hurts the feelings of the children.

The effects are more extreme when the parents undergo a long custody battle and the children are forced to endure the long process. These children are likely to suffer from various psychological problems which include guilt, low self-esteem, anger, depression, panic, denial and panic. In some extreme cases the children may start criminal and destructive behaviors. Psychologists have advised that for the parents to protect their children from such problems they should refrain from custody battles, because sometimes divorce is the only solution and so marriages cannot be reconciled (Porto, 2008).

Counseling psychologists have advised that the effects of a divorce on the children are mainly determined by the father. It is of paramount importance that both male and female children should have a father and mother figure in their lives who they perceive as their role models in their lives. The more of a role model the father is to the boys and girls, the more positive the effects of the divorce will be psychologically on both boys and girls. If the father plays a significantly less role in the child’s life after the divorce, the children will suffer in their childhood and also many years into their adulthood as well. Although the modern societies have greatly undervalued a father’s role in the children’s childhood, it is important to note that only a father figure has the most powerful impact on the lives of his children. This means that the father is capable of creating an emotionally stable and successful adult or a disturbed and unstable adult for his children. According to psychologists, most troubled and disturbed adults can ascertain that their fathers did not play a very significant role in their lives. Counseling psychologists insist that even though the society today insists on the importance of the mother’s role in a child’s life, the father’s role is the most important and will determine whether the child becomes a success or a failure in the future life as an adult (Rubin, 1992).

Counseling psychologists also argue that age of the children is very important in determining the extent of the effects of the divorce. However, they also point out that the effects will be the same after the children have reached adult age (Furstenberg Jr., 1990).

In preschool aged children, the psychologists point out that it is very common for the children to suffer psychological problems which include withdrawal and anger. The children also become very hard to please. These problems are rooted in the fact that no matter how much a parent tries to instill to the child that it is a normal thing; the child will take it very personally. Parents have tried to hide the hatred they feel against their spouses but it does not work no matter what. Psychologist’s advice suggests that it is important for a family to hold a family gathering or a meeting. The meeting should be between the children and the two spouses. It should be an open forum with the kids being permitted to ask the questions and the parents answering them without hiding anything. The kids should be enlightened as to why the parents are divorcing and the parents should also candidly explain the situation of the marriage without necessary being too explicit (Shansky, 2002).

Children in High School or in Middle School also suffer from some sort of psychological problems which include spending a lot of time fantasizing about the reunion of their parents. These children may start experimenting with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to counter the pain that they are subjected to at home. This group of children may show such symptoms as withdrawal which is directed to family and friends and also the activities that they are normally involved in. The children will then turn into antisocial people and this is one of the most telltale signs that the children are having psychological problems which are brought about by divorce as well as other issues in the children’s lives. Counseling psychologists advise that it is important for parents and guardians to look out for antisocial behaviors like bullying and fighting and others like running away from home, cheating, stealing and lying. When a recently divorced parents notice such behavior in their children they should consult a counseling psychologist because this is the sign the children are suffering from psychological problems (Hetherington, 1999).

Another psychological problem that is evident with the kids when the parents’ divorce is that they think that they would rather not be a parent in their adult life. This is because when the parents undergo a divorce or a separation, they concentrate on their own concerns and ignore the concerns of the children who are seriously affected by a divorce of the parents. This results in the parents giving the children little if any attention and affection, however in a surprising turn of events more responsibilities are bestowed upon the children and also more pressure is subjected to the children. This is done unconsciously with the parents realizing the burden they are putting on their children. This often results in some forms of psychological problems which include the children becoming more argumentative, defensive and defiant which are normally not their characteristics (Portnoy, 2008).

The less common psychological effects include when the child takes the role of the guardian and results in comforting the parent the siblings and have the responsibility of managing the household chores. These types of psychological effects result in the children feeling angry because they see as if their parents are wrongly putting more demands on them and that their identities have been robbed of them. The child may feel that he or she has been denied the lifestyle of other children because now they have to be more mature rather than assuming the carefree attitude of a child. The advice from psychologists is that the parents should do their children a favor and refrain from giving them the responsibilities of being a parent when they are still children. Parents should remember that they are their children’s role models and hence they should let their children enjoy the joys of being a child without worrying about an unstable parent leaving all the chores and responsibilities to them. Parents should remember that their children are dependent on them for psychological support and morale-building and when the parent is transformed into psychological wrecks by a divorce, the children really miss the true meaning of life. The parent should be strong for the children’s sake and focus on the children’s needs rather than the divorce. This can help very much in the future of the children (Furstenberg Jr., 1990).

A divorce can bring about difficulties and problems to the children and this is very intense during the transition period. The repercussions of a divorce are often determined by how long the transition lasts and this is mainly determined by the parents. In order for the effects not to be very intense for the children, it is necessary for the parents to have a transition that is very fast and which involves little chaos (Portnoy, 2008).

Differences between children of divorced families and non-divorced families

It is important to note that children from divorced families have different personalities than their non-divorced families’ counterparts. One of the differences in the low self-esteem that many children from divorced families pick up after the divorce. They do not consider themselves as equals with their counterparts. In addition, the children may also start deviant behaviors. They also may be involved in antisocial behaviors like stealing, bullying, fighting, cheating and other antisocial behaviors. In addition the children may start performing poorly academically and this is because their concentration power lowers as their mental activities are involved in thinking about the divorce and how things could change for the better if the parents came back together (Jeynes, 2006).

Due to increased stress at home and socially, children from divorced families may experiment with drugs at younger ages than their counterparts. Drugs are used by the children in order for them to get away from the stressful issues that are brought about by the divorce (Hetherington, 1999).

Preschool age children have a clear difference and this can be attributed to the fact that these children take a divorce very seriously. Whereas children of a non-divorced family are jovial and content with their lives, the children of divorced families have psychological problems and seem to be withdrawn. These children can start deviant behaviors such as stealing and one thing about them is that they are so difficult to please. The children may also start missing one of the parents and this is when real psychological problems starts (Oppawsky, 2000).

Adolescents also have a clear difference and this is because they also have psychological problems. Divorce families’ adolescents have the tendency of engaging in sexual behaviors at very young age compared to non-divorced families’ counterparts. The other changes are the same as the general differences that have been given above (Malone, 2004).


The study has come to the conclusion that a divorce has a lot of traumatizing effects on the children and most of these effects have a long life impact on the children. This is because some children are psychologically destroyed when the parents undergo a divorce. The study has shown that the effects are varied with the age of the children but it is a clear fact that the effects will be almost similar when the children are adults. The parents have been advised to be strong for their children and not be wrecks themselves. Before undergoing a divorce it is important for the parents to consider if the divorce is worth the risk of the children’s future. This is because children whose parents have divorced are likely to take up some very antisocial behavior. The greatest risk is not when the children pick these habits when they are still young but the greatest risk is when the children do not drop these habits when they are adults. Most of the criminals suffer from a psychological problems and that is a fact. A divorce brings about psychological problems to the children and thus increases the chances of the children being criminals (Hetherington, 1999).

Counseling psychologists can help the children who have started experiencing psychological problems as a result of their parents divorcing or other causes. It is important for the parents to ensure that if the child starts showing signs of psychological problems they should consult a counseling psychologist before the need arise when they would need the services of a clinical psychologist. This is because clinical psychologists take up the case when the situation is too worse and there involves a lot of medication. It is always better to prevent than to cure and in this case the counseling psychologist can be seen as a preventive measure while the clinical psychologist can be seen as a curative measure. Children should not be subjected to this kind of suffering and though sometimes a divorce cannot be avoided, it is always good to consider the implication a divorce is likely to have on the children. Most parents tend to be selfish on these ends and do not consider their own children and the impact that the divorce will have on their children (Furstenberg Jr., 1990).


  • It is important for the parents to consider the children during a divorce and the following transition period. This is because many parents are selfish during a divorce and only think about themselves and completely ignore the effects that a divorce brings about to the children.
  • Parents should also be wary of the signs of psychological problems which can be brought about by a divorce.
  • When parents have noted that the children are having psychological problems, it is necessary for them to consult a counseling psychologist so that the problem can be tackled professionally and immediately to avoid further problems which can result in the children requiring clinical psychologists.
  • Parents should also inform the children of the problems that are bringing about the divorce. Being put in the light can be helpful to the children and the impact of the divorce can be significantly reduced during a divorce.
  • Parents should avoid chaotic transition which greatly affects the children. They should come to quick and amicable agreement on various issues surrounding the divorce. In the same respect, the parents should avoid custodial battles which are very destructive as far as the children’s psychology is concerned.


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Jeynes, W.H. Methodological Challenges Facing Researchers in Examining the Effects of Divorce on Children. Marriage & Family Review, 2006, Vol. 40 Issue 2/3, p107-130, 24p.

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