Divorce and Effects on Children

Divorceand Effects on Children


ChapterI: Introduction

Marriageis a very common institution in almost all cultures around the world.People are expected by the society to find a partner and get marriedwhen they hit a certain age, which may be different depending ondifferent cultures. In particular, the Western culture expects peopleto be married by the time they hit 50 years old. Marriage isperceived to be good for adults physically, mentally and alsopsychologically. It is also an institution that has been proven tohave a positive impact on children. Children who grow up in aconventional family with happily married parents are likely to beprotected from physical, psychological and educational problems asthey grow up. When people get married, they are expected to staytogether till death but unfortunately, this does not happen for manypeople. Just as marriage has become popular in the world, so hasdivorce. In the past decades, the rate of divorce has gone upsignificantly. Approximately 40 to 50 percent of marriages in theUnited States of America get annulled. There are different reasonsthat have contributed to the high rate of divorce in the Western andthe rest of the world. Most of these marriages end in spite of thefact that the partners already had children.

Verymany researches have been done by different people on issues relatedto divorce and its effects on children and all point to one fact thatthe split of parents has a great deal of impacts on the lives of thechildren. No matter what age the children are, witnessing theseparation of their parents impacts their lives significantly. Whatis worse is that the divorce does not only affect the children afterit has happened but also during the conflict stage when the parentsare still trying to fight for their marriage. These children areforced to witness the loss of love and commitment as it happens andalso start living their lives differently because they can no longerlive under the same roof with both of their parents. The lives ofchildren are closely linked to those of their parents. Parental lovefrom both parents is necessary for all children. However, afterdivorce, the children only get to live with one parent and they donot get to see the other as much as is required for them. Thefollowing essay will look at some theories that explain the mainfactors that lead to marriages falling out and the effects ofdivorce, especially on children. The paper explores the impacts thatmarriage conflict inflicts on children and the extent to which thedivorce helps to reduce this conflict. The paper will also look atsome past literature on issues related to divorce done by differentresearchers.

Peopleusually equate separation from a parent as losing part of themselves,for example, separating a person and their body parts. In the US,divorce is an unfortunate but recurring event that has an impact onabout 33% of the children in the country. These effects can either belong lasting or instantaneous depending on two major factors that arethe age of the child and the relationship between the child and theparents. The rising cases of divorce in the US are influenced by twomain factors that are economic survival and fertility or fecundity.

Thefirst factor involves partners in a relationship relying less on oneanother for financial support or economic survival. When women getpromoted in workplaces or gain status, they qualify for their goodretirement packages and medical covers which enable them to be lessdepended on the male partner in the relationship. Such women mayignore the importance of companionship in a relationship because theyare self-sufficient and gainfully employed. These are the partiesthat more willing to end a marriage since they are not seen as thefinancially dependent partner. Financial stability in a relationship,especially on the female part enables one to be flexible enough toexit a troubled marriage. Most people stick together because of thechildren. However, the reason for sticking together is not entirelygiving the children parental guidance and support needed whilegrowing up but mostly it is on a financial basis. It is easier topull income together to see children through school and pay bills inthe house therefore when one partner especially the female hasfinancial autonomy and stability they may choose to break themarriage and file for custody.

Fertilityand fecundity influence divorce because each partner doesn’t haveany obligation in that relationship. Partners usually stick togetherto avoid emotional stress on the children. The desire to stay infailing marriage and the commitment to mend fences is reduced whencouples don’t have children. In such kind of relationships, thepartners approach the marriage as an individual. It should be notedthat as the rates of divorce continue to increase over the yearsacross America there is a high likelihood that the children born ofdivorced partners may have an increased risk adjusting in areasinvolving social relationships, achievement in education, adjustmentin psychology, social conduct and behaviour, peer relations andself-concept according to many researchers.

Numerousstudies have been conducted and documented explaining the impact ofdivorce on children. These studies show that children of divorcedparents have a high tendency of developing a lower sense ofpsychological stability and well-being compared to children who havebeen raised in socially intact families. These research materialsalso confirm the high tendency of emotional turmoil for instancedepression and loneliness observed in children growing up in brokenmarriages or divorced parents.

Onesure way of confirming the effects of divorce on a child is making afollow up on their classroom performance. Studies have shown thatchildren who have been born or raised in a one parent family have anincreased risk of performing poorly therefore, leading to lowacademic achievement compared to those raised in a two parentrelationship. The researchers have found that school instructors andtutors are usually among the first people to notice a change in achild when a family is going through a face of transition. Thischange may be reflected in terms of peer relationships, behaviour,school performance or attitude towards everything that is schoolrelated. Negative elements such as display of retaliatory behaviour,sadness, depression or signs of anxiety have been observed byteachers in most of the children from broken families. Researcherssuch as White Marsh found out that these children have a reducedability to concentrate fully in class. There is always a generaldecline in class attendance and willingness to take part in classactivities in children who are having a difficult time adjusting tothe changes taking place in their family. According to some sourcesthe resilience children show, especially those from a one parentfamily is a significant indicator of their success on other aspectsof their life, which include academics. Just like the domino effectchildren who are undergoing emotional turmoil and stress back at homeoften develop emotions that hinder their full concentration during anormal school day. Poor performance posted by the child usuallyaggravates the situation by agitating the parent and thus the dominoeffect continues to affect the child as they lose confidence inthemselves as decreased performance in school continues. Divorcerelated stresses occurring in a relationship affect the concentrationof the child in the class. Some children may face unusual challengessuch as failure to complete homework and assignments when organizingtheir paperwork, homework and bag pack between one home and another.

Aresearch by a psychologist called Smith done in 1999 suggests thatsome children develop an element of flexibility and proceed to adaptwell to the transition mainly because they implement strategies aimedat effective coping. However, other may react in the exact oppositemanner. They may end up losing confidence, view their parents’divorce or separation in a very complicated manner or even blamethemselves for their parent’s problems. Denial, sadness, loss,anger, disbelief, loneliness, anxiety, relief, hope, depression andfear are some of the feelings that children may develop during thetransition. It is the response to these emotions that usually resultin a differing level of intensity. While some may develop mildsadness and anxiety, other children’s emotions become very intenseto the point of suicidal tendencies. The researcher also found outthat age is a major factor when analysing the reaction children totheir parent’s divorce. More resilience is observed in olderchildren because of their level of maturity, ability and skills tocope, and their support system that includes their friends andanything that can distract them from the reality. Young ones, on theother hand, have a more difficult experience because they are stillsocially and emotionally dependent on the parent. Another researchercalled Robert Hughes in 2008 reported that there are few details wellknown about the effect of divorce on a child who is younger than twoyears. However if the relationship between a toddler and a parent isdisrupted, there may be negative effects observed. There is atendency by younger children to cry more than usual or becomeemotionally clingy. This researcher also noted that the initiative byboth parents to stay actively and dynamically involved in raisingtheir children leads to the development of a healthy relationshipbetween them and the children, and may reduce the amount and effectof stress in the young ones. When a child experiences the absenteeismof the parent, they usually become more attached and sometimes clingyto the parents with the fear that the parent might go away again.Aggressive, immature behaviour and high tendencies of anxiety areobserved in 3-year-old children in a divorced relationship. Thesechildren usually retreat to their favourite toys and comfortingbedding for solace. These children have also been observed tostruggle in toilet training at around this age due to lack of adirect and close guidance role from the parents. One factor thataggravates these issues making them last for a very long period isthe idea of moving the child from one home to the other forcing themto leave under different circumstances. This leads to confusion.Children may also develop less cooperation when playing with theothers during the pre-school age. In pre-schoolers loneliness anddepression is translated to them playing by themselves and spendingless time interacting with other children. Some social situationshave seen the children spending a lot of time seeking attention andtrying to be close to adults. Given time these children usually startto understand the problem between their parents therefore, adjust tothe situation.

Childrenranging from 6-8 years who school are usually going to develop theirown perception of divorce which makes them able to cope with thechanges. However, they may still continue grieving over thetransition in the family and long for a parent who is absent.9-12-year-olds somehow understand the meaning of divorce and theconsequences of the misfortune. They are therefore capable of keepingboth their social behaviour, feelings and emotions in check. The mostpowerful emotional response among children of this age group isanger. In order to adjust to the family situation and cope with thefeelings, children may resort to physicality as a way of acting outtheir feelings and imitate their family dynamics when they areplaying. The maturity level of adolescent boys and girls allows themto understand what it means by divorce thus, making them be able toadjust to the changes. This age group usually has a tendency offeeling like they are competing with their parents when they seeadults developing a passion for each other and going out on dates.There is a high risk of premature sexual behaviour among adolescentgirls who are from divorced families which is proportionally relatedto the risk of teenage pregnancy.

Accordingto Hughes (2008) adolescent males have a problem with the stigmaassociated with divorce and a more likely to engage in criminalactivity during their interaction with peers and participate inpremature sexual activity. The stigma involved leads to reducedself-confidence and low self-esteem in front of the peers. There aremature boys who take up the role of the adult male in the familyespecially in completely broken families who have younger kids.Similarly, there are girls who have skills and abilities to cope upstrongly and become very resilient young women due to their manychallenges when dealing with the transition. If someone lacks theessential skills to cope and manage the transition during a divorce,the impact of separation or divorce may lead to negative consequencesespecially if they don’t understand what is happening in thefamily. The skills that enable one to cope include communicationregarding feelings, the ability to avoid playing the messengerbetween estranged parents and developing strategies that help themremain organized between one home and another. It demands a certainlevel of maturity to develop these skills.

Parentshave a very important role in alleviating the negative effects ofdivorce. Parents who are determined can aid in the smooth transitionsfor the children during this tough times. They have the ability topresent a cooperative, reliable and supporting parenting style whenproviding the children with guidance on behavioural expectations anddiscipline. It may hurt a child who is trying to cope with the changeand life between two homes by putting them in that awkward positionof spying on their parents and reporting back information likefinances, dating and lifestyle.


Marriageand divorce is a topic that has been researched by very many scholarsin the past decades. Throughout these studies, there have been anumber of theories that have been developed to explain divorce, whyit happens in many cases and the effects that it has on children.This chapter of the research paper tries to explain some of thesetheories in order to understand exactly how divorce can affect thechildren.

  1. The Attachment Theory

Attachmentis a key determinant of the behaviors of people throughout theirlifetime. In this case, the attachment can be described as a strongbond that is developed between people when they form relationships.For instance, the attachment is developed between people when theystart a relationship and is also created between children and theirparents when they get to live together and interact with one another.The attachment theory was created based on three differenttheoretical approaches that include the psychoanalytic, sociallearning and the ethological theories. This theory was first studiedon the primate and the infant-mother bonds. According to this theory,childhood attachment bonds are based on the parent-child love and notthe biological push to get attached. This was proven by a study doneon adopted children. In spite of the lack of biological attachmentbetween the children and their adoptive parents, a well-formedattachment enabled the children to live a well-adjusted lifestyle.This shows that attachment is more of an emotional bond than abiological bond. Different studies done on the attachment theory haveshown that the child-parent both that is formed between children andtheir parents has an effect on the children’s’ adjustment intochildhood.

Anumber of studies have been done on attachment, and it has beenverified that the facts, across different cultures, tend to develop aspecial form of attachment towards their primary caregivers. As theygrow older, this attachment tends to get slightly weaker. Hopefully,as the attachment gets weaker, the child gains some security allowingthem to venture into other interactions and possibly attachments withthe people who are next closest to them. In most cases, this isusually the father for those who are living in a conventional family.


Divorceaffects children in different ways ranging from emotional turmoil,financial woes and social difficulties. Literature elaborating thebehavioral, social, emotions and academic effects of divorce onchildren will be presented. Additionally, the literature will touchon the consequential effects in their academics and social life willbe elaborated in this section. Additionally, recommendations to theschool counselors and strategies to assisting the children overcometheir social issues and cope well with the changes are detailed atthe end of this section.

Thereare a number of emotional variables that take place at differentstages of a broken marriage. Children usually express differentemotions before the imminent separation of the parents, during theprocess of divorce and the unfortunate events that take place likechanging homes, moving between homes and being part of legal battlesfor custody and also after the divorce. These impacts are affected bythree major factors- the age of the child in question, the maturityof the child and lastly the gender.

Feelingsand Behavior of Children

Accordingto Amato and Simon, parental separation and divorce affect childrenin a variety of ways and problems noticed in their behavior aschildren r adolescent is among the first sign of the trouble thechildren are going through in an effort to adjust to the newsituation back at home. As a way of showing discontent and anxietyover the pending divorce or the already finalized divorce, childrenmay misbehave, develop a retaliatory attitude t wards one or both oftheir parents as a way of showing frustrations. Some children may goas far as disowning their parents or even asking them to get backtogether (VanderValk et al., 2005, n.p). Amato and Craig (2010)continue to explain that the major effects of a divorce for parentalseparation are seen in social relationships, academic achievements,self-concept, peer relations and psychological adjustment inchildren. Smith (1999) explained that children react to divorces andseparation of parents differently depending on the age of the child.Younger children who cannot understand the marriage issues involvedin the relationship will react poorly, which spills over their entirelife including their health. On the other hand, older children areable to handle the changed well, because they understand the problemsat play. Some of them do not have to deduce for themselves the issuescausing their parents separation as some parents are usually liberalenough to explain to them what is happening in the house. Somechildren develop the reluctance of being close, associating or simplytalking to one of the parents especially if according to them thatsingle parent is the sole reason for the divorce. In such cases,loyalty usually surfaces, especially when it involves legal battlesregarding custody of the child. Additionally, at an early age, it isdifficult for the children to talk to their parents or friends or anyclose relations about their feeling towards the divorce.

Responseto Divorce: Age of Children

Spruijtand his fellow researchers found out that there is a difference inthe way boys and girls deal with divorce. While girls internalizetheir issues trying to keep them as private as they can, boys, on theother hand, act them out, leading to a clear change in behavior.About 33% of the divorces occur when the children are under the ageof five. This has seen researchers notice different reactions todivorces in different ways. Under-five children have a problemverbalizing their feelings. However, it is during this time and atthis age that the children use the elements of imitation in theacquisition of behavior and learning. It is possible that if a childcan detect happiness in a family and smile in return, they can alsofeel the tension between the parents therefore, develop sadness andanxiety (Smith, 1999).

Asmentioned earlier, Smith (1999) also noticed that middle school-goingchildren develop a challenge in focusing on school work, which leadsto poor school performance due to lack of concentration in class andday-dreaming about their family. Children will daydream about howideally they wish their family would be. They look at everyone elsewhose family is intact and feel like all of the people around themare superior to them. This is how the children end up developingself-confidence issues and lack of self-esteem. Lack of focus can asbe seen in failure to submit assignments as a result of totallyforgetting about them, failure to remember to carry the assignmentwith them to school or failure to complete the assignments,especially if they relied on their parents for assistance whileundertaking their assignments. The idea of spending half the weekwith one parent and then switching to the next leads to loss ofschool-related material such as permission slips. At this ageespecially when the child understands what is happening in thefamily, school is no longer a priority therefore, the child does nothave any problem falling backwards in their academic performance.Additionally, at this age, it is very difficult and therefore, theresponsibility to keep track of assignments and schoolwork all ontheir own. It is at this age when the parental guidance and supportcomes in heavily to influence the academic outcome of the child in anormal relationship. Now that this is missing, the child becomesunable to keep track of their academic responsibilities.

Teenagersare the hardest hit age group in a divorce. At this age, the childrenneed the most parental support they can afford in an effort to dealwith the changes that are taking place in their lives, includingrelations what people of the opposite sex and conflicting interestswith their parents. Since they are in between the process oftransition from a child to an adult, it is challenging for them todetermine how to react to the situation, whether as an adult or as achild. This s because as much as they are beginning to understand theadult world, they do not have enough experience to know the exact wayof dealing with some social situations. These age group membersdevelop denial and disbelief especially when they feel that thedivorce should not have happened in the first place and that thesituation could be salvageable. After the realization that thesituation at hand is there to stay, the children move to feeling sadand at a loss. This usually occurs when the grief involved is toodamning and severe to persevere. Depression occurs as a consequenceof severe loneliness and hopelessness. Here, the children starthaving zero feelings towards things around them. They develop acare-free attitude. After this, they often have anger and blamethemselves for possibly having a hand in the divorce or failing tokeep their parents together. The trauma makes the teenagers feelunloved, ineffective, insufficient and attacked. It is during thistime that children start developing a retaliatory attitude to thething and people around them. (Smith, 1999, n.p). Because of lowself-esteem and the feeling of being attacked and targeted, thechildren become less social, withdraw away from the public andfriends and react violently to friendly gestures because they feellike the person acting that way is trying to mock their socialproblems or showing off. The ability to effectively deal with theoutcome of an estranged relationship between two parents lies in theability of the child to adjust, accept ad move on.

AcademicImpact of Divorce

Dykeman(2003) cited Dacey and Travers assertion that a part from age andgender, the ability and willingness of the two parents to cometogether to offer supporting parenting role has a huge effect on theability of the child to cope with the changes occurring in thefamily. This may affect the mental stability and well-being of thechild, which translated to their school performance. The warningsigns that a child is undergoing emotional instability and needsspecial attention include declining class attendance, grades that areon a constant fall and inability to concentrate in class couples byeasy distractibility and completely switching off in class.

Inschool, withdrawal is caused by the need for the keep to sit back andreflect ton their life. At this time, the children feel anything oranyone is better than the. There is a heavy internal conflict as thechild tries to fight the element of comparing their situation toeveryone, because, according to them, they are in the worst situationof all the people around them. Often, the children would findnew-found closeness with a friend or two, most of whom have almostsimilar family issues. Therefore, the level of withdrawal, focus andmotivation in school is a good indicator of how the children areadjusting to the change in their lives (Hargreaves, 1991, n.p).

Accordingto Hargreaves (1991) children of divorced parents who adjust to thesituation may end up being excellent achievers academically. However,this is a double-edged sword since as the teacher or counselor mightthink that the child is coming around as a result of improvedperformance in class, the child might be developing solace in books.Care should be taken when dealing with these children because in sucha drive, the children usually have an extraordinary commitment toperform well because they see it as the last thing that makes sensein their lives. For the promise of a better future and the idea oftrying to become better than the parents, the children might chooseto withdraw from everyone and spend almost all their time in thelibrary, which eventually affects their social relationship withtheir peers.

Hagreaves(1991) noted that children from two-parent families have a betterrecord in terms of schooling years compared to those from divorcedtherefore, single-parent families. Most of the time, single parentshave limited time to spend with their children in order to teach themabout good social and moral values since they are busy fending forthe child. Such families are characterized by initial, if notlong-term financial issues. These children have less moral supporttherefore, end up being unable to understand their expectations inschool, for instance, the respect they need to accord their tutors.67% of divorced children usually develop negative behavior andattitude towards anything that is school-related (Hargreaves, 1991,n.p).


Withincreasing financial stability and independence of couples inmarriages, people are starting to make the essence of stickingtogether in a troubled relationship in order to safeguard thewell-being of the children unimportant. This has seen teachers noticestrange behavior in young children such as dealing or taking drugs.When parents are divorced, there is a silent struggle from the parentwho has custody to ensure ta the family is financially afloat inorder to avoid the children noticing any visible changes caused bythe divorce. What some parents fail to appreciate is the role ofparenting in the well-being of the child. Finances alone cannot makea stronger family. It needs two people to offer proper guidance tothe children.

Childrenof divorced parents usually lack a father or a mother figure in theirlives. They lack one parental aspect due to the absence of thatspecific aren’t in their lives. Eve wit shared custody it isdifficult to commit fully one’s time to ensuring that the childgrows up well morally. In such circumstances, the children will tendto rely on other people to fill up for the roles that are lacking intheir lives. Teenage girls will tend to fall into the temptation ofbeing in a sexual relationship with older men as she sees them morelike father figures as opposed to partners. They look up to thesepeople to learn things that their parent could not teach them.However, in such instances, the moral lessons are ineffectivelypassed on to the child therefore, the child grows u having moralinsufficiencies. This affects their ability to maintain a good socialrelationship because due to the freedom they had during theirparents’ separation they do not understand the need to factorother people in everything done. They tend to be self-centeredbecause they are used to focusing on themselves.

Parentschange their relationship with their children in order to win backtheir affection. In most instances, this affects those parents whohave the custody of the children, especially the male parents. Theseparents, in an effort to win their children’s favor, try to be niceto their children by showering them with presents, money and becomecareful to correct them lest they become upset with them. As aseparated parent, one is careful not to lose the little connectionthey have with their children. Therefore, they are unwilling tocorrect them for fear of aggravating the situation. This leads tomoral decay in the child.

Childrenfrom divorced marriages develop negative attitudes towards members ofthe opposite sex and the entire idea of marriage or relationships.For instance, a girl may start hating men especially if she feelsthat the father is the reason for the divorce and consequently thereason behind all his social problems. The girl may end up neverbeing able to maintain good relationships in the future, which maylead to failure to marry. Even after marriage, most of the socialissues experienced when one was a child spills over, leading to theelement of mistrust in the relationship for fear of experiencing thesame proms as the parents. In this case, the victim becomes reluctantto give their full commitment to the relationship, which eventuallyleads to a broken relationship and consequently separation. However,there are a few cases of those who learn from their parents’mistakes and try as much as they can to avoid ending up like theparents. In such cases, the child will be very committed in therelationship and try to control everything to make it perfect enoughto avoid ending up like the parents. Such are the spouses that attendevery marriage workshop to better their relationships and resolvetheir marital problems early before they develop into a separation.It is the fear of going through the same experience as a child thatdrives these partners to go over time in the relationship.


Socialpolicies governing divorce cover custody rights, education of thechildren, child support and social behavior of the child. In mostcountries, custody of the child is given to one parent if they canclearly substantiate that the divorce was as a result of theirresponsible behavior of the other partner. However, one parent maybe given custody of the child if they express the requiredresponsibilities required in raising the child, or if they can provethat it will harm the child either physically, socially oremotionally if the child’s custody is given to the other partner,due to the partner’s irresponsibility. In cases where both partnersare at fault for the problems in their relationship, the custody isshared equally, where the children spend equal time in differenthomes. However, parents may choose to give full custody of thechildren to one parent and offer to give financial child support andoccasional visits in case they feel that that move is the best forthe child.

Inmany countries, child support, which includes financial and socialsupport are mandatory after a divorce. This ensures that thewell-being of the child is safeguarded even after the split. It ishighly offensive for a person to fail to honor this obligation andsuch an offense is punishable in the courts of law.

Theparent who has custody of the child is required by law to protect thechild ad ensure adequate well-being for the child. Child welfareservices have the mandate to advise against custody of a child incase their assessment of the situation shows that the basic needs ofthe child are not met and the well-being of the child in underjeopardy. In case both parents are unable to take care of the child,these services are allowed by law to proceed with placing the childunder their care in children’s homes.


Thefamily is the building block of the society and marriage forms thecore foundation of this. Divorces have led to far-reaching effects onchildren. Not only is divorce a negative effect to the family, but italso affects the public, the church and the government in general.These effects are dangerous to a child’s social, mental, health andemotional well-being. If possible, divorces should be avoided becausethey cause more harm than good. This essay is laden with the negativeeffects of separation and divorce therefore, it is an appeal to allestranged couples to put their differences aside and offer guidanceand support to their children on a united front.


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