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The Impact of Divorce on Children’s Psychological Wellbeing


Divorce refers to the dissolution of a marriage as provided by family law. It is usually an upsetting event because it creates disappointment, and might evoke feelings of anger and guilt. Moreover, there are emotional, parental, and legal challenges that complicate the process. Divorce is a tough process because of the time, energy, and changes in responsibilities involved. Children are the main victims because in many cases, they lack the understanding to comprehend why their parents’ separation is necessary. Couples deal with divorce in different ways. Some retain a cordial relationship for the sake of the children, to ensure that they do not get emotionally scarred. On the contrary, others separate and spend much money and time in court battling over custody of the children. Divorce is beneficial to children who live in dysfunctional families where they are exposed to domestic violence. However, it has a negative impact on children because it destabilizes their psychological wellbeing, increases the risk of delinquency, and causes trauma due to loss and the struggle of adjusting.

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Psychological Effects

One of the main effects of divorce on children is the psychological trauma associated with living in a broken family. One of the major challenges of divorcing is ensuring that the children are not affected so that their mental and psychological wellbeing remains intact (Espejo 43). While some parents forego the divorce for the sake of their children, others agree that breaking-up is the best option both for themselves and the children. The main worries that parents harbor include the uncertainty of custody arrangements and the potential effect of the break-up on children (Espejo 43). Divorce is a stressful event, especially for children as it affects their psychological and mental wellbeing negatively.

Divorce creates emotional turmoil for children, which can be both confusing and frustrating at the time. Young children struggle to comprehend why they have to switch between two homes and why their parents do not live together anymore. The realization that their parents stopped loving each other grips them, and they start developing the belief that their parents’ love for them could one day end too (D’Onofrio and Emery 100). Grade school children struggle with the emotions of guilt, as they view the divorce as their fault. The most common assumption is that their misbehavior or inappropriate actions are the cause of the divorce. Carrying this type of guilt to adulthood is detrimental to the psychological health of children (D’Onofrio and Emery 100). Teenagers deal with divorce differently as anger and blame emerge. They could either blame one of the parents for initiating the separation or they could dislike both for the disruption that takes place in their family.

Studies have shown that children from broken families struggle with mental health, self-esteem, and the creation of interpersonal relationships. The situation is worse in high-conflict divorces that involve verbal and physical altercations. Children that suffer from low self-esteem find it hard to adjust living with a single parent, changing schools and homes, and making new friends (D’Onofrio and Emery 100). These events cause stress and the children might be unable to handle the loss of the status quo. The trauma that emanates from witnessing parents fight over property and the custody of children leads to poor coping (Espejo 49). Adversarial divorce processes exacerbate the stress that children experience as parents focus on dealing with their emotional pain (D’Onofrio and Emery 101). The propensity for one of the partners to seek revenge for wrongs done creates a sense of helplessness in the children.

Behavior Problems

Children of divorced parents are highly prone to conduct disorders, delinquency, and impulsive behaviors when compared to children from stable families. The marital conflict involved in the majority of divorce proceedings, challenges the children’s social competence. Divorce means that the children experience less affection, less attention, and less responsiveness from parents (Dohaney 21). Moreover, the parents are more inclined to punish their children as a way of expressing their disappointment and anger, thus making them emotionally apprehensive. Studies have shown that children who come from broken homes have a higher risk of becoming irritable and aggressive than children from stable homes (Dohaney 21). The inability to cope with divorce could lead to behaviors like fighting, stealing, and drug abuse as ways to mitigate their emotional pain.

Diminished school performance and achievement have been linked to the negative effects of divorce. Children from broken families have more problems in school, and therefore, they are unable to concentrate on their studies (Espejo 56). A study conducted by the University of Virginia revealed that the academic performance of elementary school children worsened immediately after their parents divorced (Dohaney 24). The trauma of the divorce affects their ability to focus on their educational aspirations as their energy is directed toward the uncertainty of their futures. Studies have also shown that children from stable families have 11 percent higher Grade Point Averages (GPAs) as compared with children from divorced families (Espejo 62). This discrepancy can be attributed to absenteeism, decreased motivation, and less parental involvement. In many cases, the parents are too focused on the divorce that they pay little or no attention to their children’s progress in school. The situation is worse with parents whose divorce proceedings go on for many years.

Counterargument and Rebuttal

Psychologists argue that divorce is beneficial for children who are subjected to domestic violence. The constant conflicts between parents, physical abuse, and emotional suffering affects their psychological welfare. In that regard, parental separation mitigates the trauma, gives them the opportunity to be independent, and creates more one-on-one time with both parents (Mortelmans 74). Proponents of divorce argue that a good divorce is better for the children than a bad marriage. Studies have shown that children in unstable families perform poorly in school and exhibit behavioral challenges. The divorce process teaches children how to work through hard times and make the difficult choices that are critical in the molding of a brighter future (Mortelmans 76). A dysfunctional marriage, the psychologists argue, subjects children to constant bickering, possible violence, and an environment that is unsuitable for their growth. Parents who stay together for the sake of their children create a volatile environment that is devoid of love and affection.

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Children benefit immensely when they are separated from abusive parents. However, the consequences that ensure after the divorce, especially with regard to adjustment, dealing with emotional pain, and changing homes and schools are dire (Mortelmans 95). The intensity of the pain experienced primarily depends on the child’s stage of development. Many children do not possess the understanding necessary for them to make sense of the importance of divorce (Dohaney 26). Many end up blaming themselves for their family’s disintegration. The most common sources of divorce include infidelity, substance use, and domestic violence. Proponents of divorce ignore the psychological inability of many children to handle the pain of a disintegrated family. Spending less time with parents, watching as they fight over custodial rights and property, and the stigma that is associated with being a child of divorce can be overwhelming (Dohaney 30). In many cases, the parents have little time to pay attention to the children’s emotional needs. The parents spend a lot of time trying to cope with their pain. The loss of affection and attention from parents pushes May children, especially teenagers, toward risky behaviors like drug use and alcohol consumption.


The effects of divorce on children have been studied for many years. Studies have shown that the feelings of loss, anxiety, anger, and confusion involved in the separation of parents are detrimental to the psychological wellbeing of children. In particular, it leaves them stressed and feeling overwhelmed as the majority of them lack the skills necessary for adjustment into new environments and ways of doing things. It has been shown that divorces limit parental contact, attention, and affection. Therefore, children cope with the new reality by acting out and engaging in risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use. In addition, their academic performance deteriorates as parents pay little or no attention to their school work. The situation is worse in divorce proceedings that are characterized by conflicts as parents fight for the ownership of assets and custodial rights. Divorce is beneficial to children who are subjected to domestic violence or constant parental conflicts. However, the separation of their parents has adverse effects on their development and mental wellbeing.

Works Cited

D’Onofrio, Brian, and Robert Emery. “Parental Divorce or Separation and Children’s Mental Health.” World Psychiatry, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 100-101.

Dohaney, Katherine. “Effects of Divorce on children: The Importance of Intervention.” The BYU Undergraduate Journal in Psychology, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 21-33.

Espejo, Roman, editor. Divorce and Children. Cengage Learning, 2015.

Mortelmans, Dimitri, editor. Divorce in Europe: New Insights in Trends, Causes and Consequences of Relation Break-ups. Springer, 2019.

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