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The Impact of Divorce on Children & How to Help

by | Jun 29, 2021 | Divorce |

Divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences of a person’s life. As a marriage dissolves, many worries can arise regarding finances, finding an attorney, or figuring out how to equitably distribute property and assets. When there are children of the marriage, there may be additional concerns, such as  child custody, child support, and parenting time. There might also be fears about how children will adjust to new family dynamics and living situations. For children, divorce can often feel like a loss of stability. The experience may impact a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as their academic performance. It’s important to remember that most children recover from divorce without long-term impacts with support from their parents and other trusted individuals in their lives.

Understanding the Impact

The impact of divorce on children varies greatly depending on age, support from parents, caregivers, and/or trusted adults, and other factors. Young children may have a hard time understanding why they need to go between two homes. They may also have worries that if their parents can stop loving each other, their parents may stop loving them. Grade school children may blame themselves for the divorce, believing that they misbehaved or did something wrong to cause the separation. Adolescents may exhibit anger about the divorce and the changes that it has caused. They may place blame on one or both parents, potentially causing feelings of resentment. It’s important to remember that family dynamics are unique. For situations where abuse, fighting, or yelling has occurred, children may feel relieved by the separation, knowing that it could mean an end to a hostile home environment. The consequences of divorce on children generally fall into three main categories: physical effects, emotional impact, and issues with academic performance.

Physical Effects

Going through a divorce is stressful for the entire family. For children, the stress of a divorce can manifest physically with symptoms including but not limited to: decrease in appetite, stomachaches, headaches, worsening or new bedwetting, disruption in sleep patterns, or other physical symptoms with no underlying physical illness. This is not uncommon, as studies show that children of divorced parents experience more health issues than children living with parents who have not divorced.

Emotional Impact

Divorce is an emotional experience that can manifest in a range of emotions and feelings. Research has shown that children struggle most in the first year or two after the divorce, often experiencing distress, anger, anxiety, and possibly disbelief. They may also feel scared, confused, and frustrated. Regardless of age, gender, or culture, children who experience divorce experience increased mental health issues. Divorce can cause adjustment disorders (that typically resolve in a matter of months), depression, and anxiety. Children may also experience externalized problems as well, including anti-social behavior, acting out, getting in trouble, and impulse control issues. Additionally, children who blame themselves for the divorce may experience issues in self-esteem which can lead to depression. In some cases, the emotional impacts of divorce on children can follow into their adult lives, causing commitment and relationship issues, especially if the divorce was unexpected and/or if the child doesn’t get the support they need before, during and after the divorce.

Issues with Academic Performance

Research consistently demonstrates that children who experience divorce may get lower grades than their peers. This impact is more likely to be experienced in situations where the divorce was unexpected. Children may also miss school for court dates, may have to move schools once the divorce is finalized, or they may be distracted in the classroom because of the divorce process. Children may also experience less parental involvement regarding their education because they are living with one parent or traveling between both. The emotional impact of the divorce on one or both parents may also contribute to this consequence especially if the parent/s are feeling withdrawn or depressed.

How to Help

It’s important to remember that for some children, it isn’t always the family disruption that is the most challenging part. Rather, it is the stressors related to the divorce that are most impactful. These can include changing schools, moving to a new home, living with a single parent, or facing financial challenges because of the divorce. There are many ways to help children adjust to new family dynamics caused by divorce.

In an article by Very Well Family, author Amy Morin, LCSW writes, “Parents who are aware of [the] consequences [of divorce] and take steps to help their kids not only cope with the situation but also heal from it will see fewer consequences from divorce.” Helping children adjust isn’t always easy, especially when parents are dealing with their own emotional and physical stress of divorce. Below are some ways that parents can help their child/ren. All children are different, so it’s important to use these as a guide and to adjust and choose based on what works best for the child/ren.

Co-Parent Peacefully

Conflict between parents can increase children’s distress. Severe conflict such as screaming or threatening can cause children to have behavioral issues. Peaceful co-parenting helps children to adjust more easily to the new family dynamics and can alleviate stress. Only co-parent if it safe to do so.

Avoid Putting Kids in the Middle

Asking a child to choose between parents or asking them to be the go-between for communication between parents can cause anxiety, depression, and stress. If parents have to go to court for custody/visitation, children can sometimes feel like they have to choose between parents. In New York, a child in a Family Court matter has the right to representation by an Attorney for the Child who will advocate for what the child/ren request/s.

Maintain Healthy Relationships

Healthy parent-child relationships have demonstrated higher self-esteem and better academic success for children following a divorce. Parental warmth, positive communication, and an environment with little conflict can help children adjust to divorce more easily.

Use Consistent Discipline

It is incredibly important in a time of adjustment to maintain as much consistency as possible. One aspect of this is to use consistent discipline and age-appropriate rules and to follow through with consequences when necessary. If a child/ren are living between two homes, make sure the rules and consequences for breaking them are the same. If one parent is consistent and the other allows for rules to be broken, it can cause tension between the child/ren and the parent who is attempting to enforce the rules. The use of consistent discipline after a divorce can reduce the likelihood of children acting out and can improve academic performance.

Empower Your Children

During and after a divorce, children can feel overwhelmed, helpless, and uncertain about their ability to work through the divorce. Parents can teach their child/ren that even though going through a divorce is difficult, they are h2 and resilient enough to work through it. This can be done by acknowledging accomplishments, talking with children about what has worked in the past when they have been through a difficult situation, by helping to build a community of people who care about them, by showing the child/ren unconditional love, and by being a trusted person in their lives.

Teach Coping Skills

Coping skills are strategies to help people to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a healthy way. Children with active coping skills are more likely to adapt better to divorce. Coping Skills for Kids is a comprehensive website that outlines strategies for coping for children for a variety of situations, and provides recommendations for books, toys, games, and activities to help children cope with a variety of challenging situations. Building a child’s coping strategy toolbox can help them better process and handle challenging situations in the future.

Help Kids Feel Safe

In the process of a divorce, children may have feelings or fears of abandonment or concerns about the future. Instability, especially for younger children, can feel scary. It’s important to prioritize safety, and to show children that they are loved, safe, and secure. This is especially important if the divorce is because of abuse or violence in the home.

Seek Parental Education

Parental education programs can help parents to better understand ways to help their children adjust to and work through the impact of divorce. Below are some links to educational programs in the Capital Region.

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, families need extra support while in the process of a divorce and/or after the divorce has concluded. For parents who need support, seeking the assistance of a mental health professional and practicing self-care can be positive for the parent/s as well as the child/ren. Therapy for the child/ren as well as family therapy (if safe) can be beneficial in helping children to recover and heal from the impact of divorce and reduce the likelihood of long-term impacts on mental and physical health, adjustment, and academic performance.

Resources for Emotional Support, Counseling & Advocacy

If a parent/s decide to seek therapy for themselves or their child/ren, the best place to start is with their primary care physician and/or pediatrician. Additional resources for emotional support, counseling, and advocacy are included below.

PsychologyToday is a website where a person can search for mental health practitioners using a variety of filters including insurance, age, areas of practice, gender, etc.

If a family has insurance, sometimes the most direct way is to search through the insurance’s website. Many insurance companies have website where people can either create a login or enter an insurance ID number to access a directory of practitioners who accept the insurance. Most websites also provide filtering options so people can find a practitioner who best meet their needs.

Domestic/Family Violence & Child Abuse Resources

Sometimes divorce is the result of violence and abuse. These local resources are specifically for parent/s and child/ren who have experienced these situations. Please note that some of these resources may have eligibility restrictions. Please contact the individual organizations for further details.

Emotional Support & Advocacy

No-Cost Legal Services

With support from parents, caregivers, family members, and trusted adults, children can work through the experience of divorce. Remember, most children recover from divorce without long-term consequences. This is especially true if parents and caregivers are proactive and try to meet their child/ren where they are in terms of what they need and how they are processing their experience. Parents should do their best to meet their own emotional and health needs as well so they can be present and supportive for their child/ren.


Donnellan Law, PLLC is a full service matrimonial and family law firm located in Ballston Spa, New York. The attorneys at Donnellan Law, PLLC are well equipped to answer all of your matrimonial and family law related questions, including questions about orders of protection through family court for incidences of domestic violence and/or abuse. For an initial confidential consultation, please contact us at 518-884-0200 or visit for more information.