Married Parents vs. Divorced Parents: The Impact on Children

As parents, it is only natural to worry about the impact your choices have on your children. When those choices create significant changes in their everyday life and alter the look of their family forever, the stress and worry can seem unbearable. The effect of divorce on children can range from a minor disruption while they adjust to a new routine to major problems with behavior and acting out.

Some children grieve for a short period and seem to bounce back quickly. Others mourn for a longer period and may hold out hope you and the other parent will reconcile. It is, however, important to remember that you do have some control over how your divorce affects your children, and there are options that can help them cope.

Does age play a role in how children react to a separation or news of a divorce?

While divorce affects all children differently, psychologists make general predictions about what you may expect based on age. It seems age does play a major role in how a child grieves and adapts during and after their parent’s divorce.

Author and psychologist Carl E Pickhardt has observed younger children becoming more dependent on their parents during the tumultuous months after a split, while tweens, preteens, and teens grow more independent. In an article he wrote for Psychology Today, he told parents to expect regressive behavior in children and an aggressive response from those in middle and high school.

According to the Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, common responses include:


Preschoolers often need a lot of reassurance during the adjustment period after their parents separate. They may worry both parents will leave them, or wonder who will take care of them. Helping them understand their schedule is key. Regression in potty training, socializing, and even speech is common. They may also develop separation anxiety.

Elementary Age

Children between the ages of five and nine may be more outwardly emotional than their younger or older siblings. This age group is most likely to cry and show typical signs of grieving the way life was with both parents in the home. Children in elementary school often fantasize about or actively plot to get their parents back together.

Tweens and Pre-teens

As children get older, more of them begin incorporating anger as a major part of the grieving process during divorce. The changes often bring high levels of stress, which may cause academic and social problems. They are also more likely to take sides than younger children. As children approach middle school and junior high, they may have more questions about your separation, as well.


Teens are more likely to act out than younger children, often rebelling and engaging in risky behaviors. Some teens feel as if their parents “misbehaved,” so they should be able to as well.

Because they are old enough to understand many of the societal norms of adult relationships, they often have many uncomfortable questions for parents. Always be upfront with your teens, but tell them only what they need to know. It is a good idea to present a united front to deal with any behavioral issues.

Would my children be better off if we stayed married?

Over the last two decades, researchers have taken a close look at the outcomes of children from high-conflict relationships. In general, the consensus seems to be that children from any family with a high level of conflict do not fare as well as those from homes where the parents fight very little. This is true no matter if the parents stayed together or divorced, according to findings from Parental Conflict and Marital Disruption: Do Children Benefit When High-Conflict Marriages Are Dissolved?, published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

For this reason, some psychologists now consider the change in exposure to conflict as more important in how a child adjusts to life after a divorce than any other factor. Other factors include:

  • The quality and depth of their relationship with their parents before the divorce
  • The quality and depth of their relationship with each parent after the separation
  • The parents’ ability to prioritize their children during the divorce process
  • The parents’ ability to cooperate and manage disagreements after the divorce

How can I help my children through the divorce?

One of the keys to helping your children through your divorce is to remind them that you and your spouse are getting divorced — they are not. You are still a family and you still love them, even if your family does not look the same. Changing your point of view on this can help you understand what your child needs from you.

It is also important that you learn to get along with the child’s other parent. While your former spouse is probably the last person on earth you want to be nice to right now, it is paramount that you learn how to settle disagreements between you. Minimizing the conflict your child witnesses is key in minimizing the impact the divorce has on their life. Never talk badly about the other parent or put your child in the middle.

Lastly, do not overlook the importance of seeking emotional support for both you and your child. Talking to a therapist can help children learn coping mechanisms to deal with grief or stress, and understand the changes taking place.

Call Crouse Erickson for divorce help.

The legal team at Crouse Erickson understands the emotional and financial impact a divorce can have on every member of the family. Call us today at 509-624-1380 to learn how we can help you through this tough time.

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