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The Psychological Effects Divorce Can Have on Children

By Nottage and Ward on July 20, 2023

Divorce can have profound psychological effects on children. The extent of those effects may differ from one child to the next. However, there are specific measures parents can take to minimize the psychological impact of divorce on their children.

In the United States and other Western countries, the divorce rate has steadily increased since the 1960s. According to a paper from the National Library of Medicine, approximately 60% of children live in a household where their biological parents are married.

Understanding the Emotional Impact

Children going through their parents’ divorce may experience feelings of sadness, confusion, and anger as they confront a drastic change in their household and family makeup. Such change can also lead to fear and uncertainty about the future. Depending on the circumstances—such as the child’s age—a child experiencing divorce may have difficulty coping with change and uncertainty as they develop and interact with the world.

Relationship Struggles

Divorce can impact a child’s ability to trust others and form new and lasting relationships. Furthermore, the inherent conflict associated with divorce can strain the parent-child relationship and potentially estrange a parent from their child. As these important relationships are disrupted, it can impact a child’s ability to develop healthy relationships as they grow into adulthood.

Academic and Educational Challenges

Disrupted Concentration and Performance

The emotional weight of a divorce can significantly impact a child’s academic performance, as their mind is preoccupied with the experience. This can disrupt a child’s ability to focus and diminish their motivation to engage with their academic responsibilities. As a result, divorce can have lasting consequences on a child’s education.

Changing School Environments

In situations involving divorced couples sharing custody of their children while living in different communities, the adjustment can be challenging for a child. A child can have difficulty adjusting to different schools or neighborhoods. This can lead to difficulty adapting to future scenarios involving change and even social isolation. Accordingly, schools and educators play a vital role in supporting a child of divorcing parents.

Mental Health Consequences

Increased Risk of Depression and Anxiety

The emotional turmoil associated with divorce can destabilize a child’s ability to process emotions in a healthy way, leaving them vulnerable to mental health disorders. Thus, parents must be mindful of their children’s psychological condition at the outset and enlist the aid of a professional, such as a family therapist.

Long-term Psychological Effects

Experiencing a divorce can significantly impact a child’s psychological development. If unaddressed, the emotional challenges of divorce may serve as a seed with the potential to grow into unresolved emotional trauma.

This can affect a child’s self-esteem, identity, and future relationships. A professional, such as a family therapist, can guide a child through the difficulties of divorce, giving them the tools to deal with potential psychological challenges as they grow into adulthood.

Strategies for Mitigating the Impact of Divorce

Given the potential consequences for children due to divorce, it is important for parents to establish a plan to minimize any negative impact the experience has on their children. Such a plan should touch on co-parenting and other means of providing stability for children.

Promoting Healthy Co-Parenting

Although communication may be strained between parents in a divorce, they must be proactive in encouraging effective communication. Parents should be mindful that divorce may serve as a model for a child’s ability to deal with conflict. Accordingly, parents should also facilitate healthy means of conflict resolution.

To achieve those goals, parents must be open to collaborative decision-making and prioritize their children’s best interests over their own interests. Co-parenting classes and therapy sessions offer parents valuable tools and methods for promoting communication and conflict resolution.

Providing Stability and Routine

Stable environments and consistent schedules are vital for parents to provide stability and routine for their children. This requires consistency in parenting styles and expectations. For example, parents may feel compelled to win their child’s favor by contradicting a stricter parent’s style. However, this would disrupt the child’s emotional development.

Parents should take advantage of calendars and scheduling apps to establish a familiar routine for their children. The resulting stability will create a safe and secure environment for their children.


Although the effects of divorce on children might deter parents from separating, it is essential to remember that children require emotionally stable and safe environments in the interests of healthy development. Parents should not dismiss divorce if staying together would expose the child to unhealthy conflict and emotional instability in the household.

However, parents should avail themselves of tools and methods for mitigating the psychological impact of divorce on their children. Such measures must be based on compassion, emotional support, and professional guidance.

Furthermore, Illinois family law is designed to protect the best interests of children in divorce cases. Accordingly, divorce attorneys can also play a role in promoting the well-being of children throughout the divorce process.

Your Trusted Chicago Family Law Attorneys

The Chicago divorce lawyers at Nottage and Ward, LLP have over 30 years of family law experience and are dedicated to advocating for the best interests of a child, as well as the interests of a divorcing parent.

Call us at (312) 332-2915 to learn more about our legal services. Let’s see how we can help.z

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