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Divorce and Children

Divorce is traumatic for all parties involved. Often, children get caught in the middle. While you may be under tremendous stress, remember that your children are also going through a divorce. But sometimes, divorce is unavoidable and may be best for you and your children. If you are going through a divorce, take the time to understand how complex the divorce process can be for you and your children.

Impacts of Divorce on Children

As the national divorce rate remains high, the effects of divorce on children have become well-documented in psychology and psychiatry. Children grieve the divorce of their parents. Parental separation affects a child's sense of well-being and safety. Their home is divided into two separate places. They may miss the other parent when with the custodial parent. The children must adjust to a new family structure, especially when one or both parents remarry other people.

Divorce affects children in ways you may not realize. Their self-esteem can suffer. The child may develop behavior problems at home or school. Their academic performance may reflect lower grades. Without proper help and coping skills, children of divorce are at an increased risk of substance use. Children whose parents divorced show higher rates of anxiety and depression than children from intact families.

The effect of the divorce can vary by the age of your children.

  • Younger children may not understand why their parents no longer live together. They may have an increase in separation anxiety. Young children can be irritable and upset by the changes in their routines.
  • School-aged children may think it's their fault their parents have split up. The child could try to behave as well as possible, hoping to fix what they think they've done wrong. They could act out. Children can also exhibit regressions, such as nightmares or wanting to share a bed with you.
  • Adolescents may react to their parent's divorce with anger or aggressive behavior. They may blame one parent for the divorce. School performance can suffer. They may engage in risky behaviors, like substance abuse or sexual activity.

If there are ongoing conflicts between the parents, this will have additional negative effects on the children. While you and your spouse can no longer be together, you are both still parents. Your children still love each of you. This trauma can have long-term effects on your children. Not only can it affect their mental health, but it can also affect their physical health.

How to Help Your Child

But there is good news. Divorcing parents can ease the impact of divorce on their children's lives. Here are some tips on making the transition easier:

  • Try to focus on what is in your children's best interest.
  • Avoid using your children as go-betweens, to pass messages, or to seek information on your ex-spouse.
  • Steer clear of talking negatively about your ex-spouse and respect their relationship with the children.
  • Consider going through mediation to resolve your divorce. Mediation can be faster and cheaper than a traditional divorce.
  • Learn how to be effective co-parents. Take parenting classes and try to resolve conflicts with your ex-spouse peacefully.
  • Stay involved with your children and maintain a healthy relationship. This will help lessen the emotional impact and feelings of abandonment.
  • Maintain your visitation schedule and keep up with child support payments. Children need consistency and routine to feel secure and safe.
  • Allow your children to grieve and miss their other parent. Let them know their feelings are normal and they are okay.

It Gets Better

When handled with care, most children can adapt to their new family dynamics within a year. Some may even appreciate the divorce, as their parents might not always fight, and each seems happier.

Often, divorce circumstances include traumatic events, such as domestic violence, drug use, or child abuse. Consider seeking therapy for you and your children. A therapist can help your children understand their feelings. It may help prevent long-term mental health problems for your child.

A therapist specializing in divorced families can also help you deal with your ex-spouse. Learn healthy communication tips, dispute resolution, and adapt to being a single parent.

The following articles focus on the emotional strain often suffered by the children of divorce, including ways to help children cope while the divorce process takes its course. This section also links FindLaw's Child Support and Child Custody sections.

Find Additional Support

If you have children and are going through a divorce, it's best to have someone fighting for what's best for you. Find a family law and divorce attorney near you who can help.

Learn About Divorce and Children

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