The psychological effects of divorce on children

In some cases, divorce can cause psychological issues for children. We take a look at how parents can help children adjust.

Divorce or separation affects children differently, with some more resilient and able to bounce back faster than others.

The first year is understandably the hardest for most, with a risk of anxiety, distress, disbelief and anger. For many, they adjust to new routines and new living arrangements. However, a small proportion of children experience ongoing difficulties.

The emotional impact of divorce on children

Children have different levels of understanding of what a divorce means and how it will affect their lives.

Young children may struggle to understand why they have to live between two homes and they can sometimes worry that if parents stop loving each other, they could also stop loving their child as well.

Older children could think that the divorce is somehow their fault and that it was a result of their misbehaviour or because they did something wrong. Teenagers may be angry and could blame one parent, or alternatively resent both parents for the disruption and change in the family structure.

The children’s relationship with both parents will change, with one parent usually losing daily contact while the other takes on more of the care and is consequently likely to be under more stress.

For some children, the actual separation isn’t the hardest part. Instead, they find the changes that divorce brings are the most difficult, such as moving to a new home, changing schools and living with a single parent who is under more pressure than before. A reduction in financial means can also be apparent to children.

Helping children to adjust to the new situation

There is plenty that parents can do to help children through a divorce or separation.

Firstly, sharing the parenting peacefully and without acrimony is helpful. Even a small amount of tension can sometimes increase a child’s stress levels.

Asking children to choose between parents in any situation should be avoided, as well as asking them to pass messages on to the other parent. Putting children in the middle can risk depression and anxiety.

The relationship between parent and child should be warm and positive with low levels of conflict. A healthy parent-child relationship has been linked to better self-esteem in children and better academic performance following divorce.

Discipline should be firm and consistent, with consequences for unacceptable behaviour. This has been shown to reduce delinquency and improve academic performance.

Working with your child to teach them how to cope with difficulties can be a huge help, as can driving home the message that although going through divorce is difficult, they are strong enough to handle it.

If you or your child are struggling, professional assistance can be hugely helpful in teaching you both how to deal with the new situation.

If you would like to speak to one of our expert family law lawyers, ring us on 0345 2413100 or email us at

Meet Marianne Tyndall

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