A Negative Effect of Divorce on Children's Behaviour

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A Negative Effect Of Divorce On Children’s Behaviour

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Effects of Divorce on Children

“In America, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That's nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year” (Tejada-Sutton, 2010). Divorce has become a huge part of today’s society, because of this, it important for us to research and understand the implications it had on the lives of the people involved. After reviewing various pieces of literature on the topic, it appeared that the primary individuals affected the most by a divorce were the children within their relationships, behavior, and communication.

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Although there are many other areas of a child’s life that can be affected by divorce, relationships, behavior and communication were found to be the most prominent. The relationship a child has with their parents, and siblings are the two primary relationships found to be affected by divorce. It was found that behavior of children is another aspect highly affected by divorce. Depending on the age of the children when a divorce occurs, different behavioral changes may occur. Lastly, the communication between a parent and child, as well as the communication between the parents typically is not efficient or misused due to a divorce. The effect of divorce on a child’s relationships is the first area that was examined.

Effect of Divorce on Children: Relationships (Kathleen Landis)

Divorce presents a great deal of serious implications in regards to the life course of children and their overall happiness (Demo & Acock, 1988, p. 619). A specific implication divorce presents, is the weakening of relationships; Divorce influences a child’s perception, desire, and management of current or future interpersonal relationships.

The relationships children have with their parents and their siblings are the two most prominent relationships affected directly when a divorce occurs. Literatures from several authors discuss various factors that may contribute to the positive or negative outcomes, that divorce may impose on a child’s relationships. A relationship that proved to be the most detrimental throughout literature, was between the parent and child.

Following a divorce, parent-child relationships have the tendency to be fairly challenging. In the United States, studies have shown that majority of divorces end with the father leaving the home as the children remain in the household with the mother as the primary caregiver (Cherlin, 2009). The quantity and quality of contact between the child and non-custodial parent, typically the father, tends to decrease with time ultimately wearing away at the relationship they may have once had (Amato, & Booth, 1996, p. 356).

Various pieces of literature argued that without frequent interactions between parent and child, there is no bases from which to form a close relationship. Likewise, the point was also made that frequent interaction are not necessary in order for a parent and child to form a close relationship; it is only a helpful tool if it is achievable (Vanassche, Sodermans, Matthijs, & Swicegood, 2013, p. 141).

Although, a mother is typically the primary caregiver, the mother-child relationship can also be affected from the separation. A study conducted in 1992, concluded that a year after divorce, mothers with custody of the children were less affectionate toward their children, communicated with them less often, punished them more harshly, and were more inconsistent in their use of discipline than continuously married mothers (Amato, & Booth, 1996, p. 356).

Beyond the physical proximity and the adequate or inadequate contact a parent and child’s relationship may face, the parent-child relationship can also receive damage due to a child’s resentment towards their parents and/or confusion of the divorce.

Throughout a divorce, conflict between parents typically results in each parent offering less affection, and harsher punishments to their children. Often times, the loss of affection and regular punishments leaves the children feeling emotionally insecure, causing them to pull away from the parent and build up resentment against them. This resentment could also be influenced by the loss of trust between the parent and child after a separation.

Portions of literature, expressed a high decrease of trust between a parent and child after a parental separation. In its self, trust is a prominent part of any working relationship; a loss of trust between the parent and child adds to the negative downfall of the relationship after a divorce (Davies & Cummings, 1994). Although, the primary relationship affected in a divorce is most frequently between the parent and child; another relationship affected that can easily go unnoticed it between the children themselves.

“Sibling relationships are the longest-surviving family relationships and an important source of comfort and support throughout the life course (Poortman & Voorpostel, 2009, p. 75). Within literature, the effect divorce has on the relationship between siblings was not studied quite as much as it should be, but the studies that were conducted and opinions that were made typically referred to divorce having a negative effect on sibling relationships. Of course, there were still various cases observed that presented positive effects as well.

A study conducted in the Netherlands in 2009, found that sibling conflict drastically increased to nearly 50% after a divorce had occurred. In the same study, they came to the conclusion that the level of sibling conflict was almost entirely dependent on the level of conflict between the parents (Poortman & Voorpostel, 2009, p. 86-87). Another study made in 2001, was able to back up the idea that parental conflict affects the sibling relationship, but not quite in the way you would think; in the conclusion of the study the researchers found that in cases of higher conflict between parents, the relationships between siblings were improved (Riggio, 2001).

The parent-child relationship, and the relationship between siblings are primary relationships affected by a divorce, but they are only two out of the many relationships that can be affected. Overall, majority of literature has provided evidence, and theories to endorse the idea that divorce typically has a negative effect on relationships. These theories and studies do make it very believable that the only effects on relationships are negative, but it is important to understand that there are also some positives that can arise from a divorce. To analyze the effects divorce implements on children, it is important to next look beyond relationships, and take a look at the behavioral implications of a divorce.

Effect of Divorce on Children: Behavior (Tiffany Peruso)

Divorce can have many negative behavioral effects on a child such as academic, social, and discipline problems. Divorce can be a challenging event for the whole family and, depending on the age of the child, a child can range from mild acting out to destructive behavior. This is due to some children being so young that they do not understand what is happening and why it is taking place; and others being older and blaming themselves for their parent’s separation. Both parents must have good commutation with their child, be patient with their child, monitor the behavior of their child, and if things are very seriously, they should seek professional help for their child (Behavioral Issues in children After Divorce, 2015).

Educational problems are a major concern for children who are going through or had experienced a divorce. Numerous studies have shown negative effects on a child’s academics achievements and have linked divorce to setbacks in school, including lower completion rates. In a study of 3,500 children, between first and third grade, students were tested on math and interpersonal skills. Those whose parents divorced scored lower than those whose parents stayed married. Divorce is an extremely emotionally distracting and can easily keep students from giving school their full focus. It can make them feel anxious while trying to learn. This is suggested why children of divorced parents scored lower in math. Math requires attention and mental agility, which can come difficult for a student when feeling anxious (Moisse, 2011). It is suggested, that during the tension leading up to a divorce is the time that school performance is most negatively affected. In fact, students dealing with divorce are three times more likely to drop out of school, two times more likely to repeat a grade, and five times more likely to be expelled or suspended (Clair, n.d).

Children can feel different emotions of anger, confusion, frustration and sadness. Children in preschool years, aging from 2 to 5 years, fear abandonment. At this age, the parents and family are the center of the child’s universe. When a divorce happens, the child becomes even more dependent of the parent. They often blame themselves for the divorce (Bloem, n.d ). They may have difficulty sleeping, throw temper tantrums, and have separation anxiety (Blatt, n.d). They may also resort to bed wetting as a way of getting closer to their parents. Children whose parents’ divorce during these preschool years, will have few memories of their parents’ conflict two-ten years later, in which case they generally have a good relationship with their custodial parent (Niolon, 2010).

Elementary school children, aging between 5 and 12 years, can experience sadness, grief, intense anger, and irrational fear. They are less likely to blame themselves. There is also support that at this age, the child can better adjust living with the parent of the same sex. Children whose parents divorce at this age tend to have a hard time adjusting when a parent remarries and may challenge family rules. Academic achievement may also decrease at this time (Niolon 2010).

Adolescents, aging from 13 and 18 years, often feel insecure, lonely, and sadness. They may have difficulty coping with their anger and or shame. They feel betrayed, which can lead to trust issues. They tend to behave more independently and feel they have deal with their emotions and the situation by themselves (Bloem, n.d.). Boys normally are more likely to become rebellious and aggressive.

Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to become anxious and withdrawal. Girls may also become sexually active at a younger age. Some children in this age group of divorced parents may engage in drug and alcohol use, theft, and violence. Others may develop eating disorders, become defiant, or skip school (Blatt, n.d). Year later, these children may fear long-term relationship with others and have adjustment problems (Niolon, 2010).

Children going through a divorce or had experienced one may also have discipline problems. They can have a hard time adjusting or have attachment issues. Living in two different houses with two different sets of rules can become very confusing. Children will then try to test their limits at each house (Niolon, 2010). They will question why one thing is allowed at one house but not the other. They may act out when they are punished for doing one thing at one house when they are allowed to do it at the other house.

It is important for separated parents to have a set of rules that are constant in both homes. If a child has stable events, rules, and schedules at both homes, the child will get a sense that their world is still predictable and dependable. A study found that maintaining positive events in the child’s life is important for predicting good adjustment after divorce. It is also important for the parents not to fight in front of their child or make them feel guilty when they are at the other parent's home. This predicts poor adjustment and lower self-esteem (Niolon, 2010).

There are also different types of attachment problems a child can suffer from as a result of inconsistent structure within homes and emotional negativity or rejection. The first type is called Insecure/Avoidant Attachment. These children become anxious, clingy, and even angry with the parent. From the stress of a divorce, the parents with insecure or avoidant children normally are emotionally unresponsive or rejecting. The second type is called Insecure/Ambivalent Attachment. These children are normally live with unorganized, unresponsive, and neglecting parents. The child does not have a lot of stability and as a result the child becomes even more clingy and inconsolable with their distress. They will act out, throw mood swings, and become over sensitive (Niolon, 2010).

Effect of Divorce on Children: Communication (Marquis Whitfield)

As we know divorce as a whole is a tough pill to swallow but when communication isn’t up to par that brings more problems. The communication between both husband and wife is important but the communication towards the child is priority. Children asks a lot of questions so who can justify what is the right thing to say and what information to expose to a child (McManus, T. G., & Nussbaum, J. F.). Parents have to think about the intake of the information, the response, and the outcome when it comes to the child.

It can be difficult to remember important details when emotions are involved. Issues with communication can put each of the parents in a bind. If one parent becomes irate that could be pushed onto the child. Sudden changes can be hard on the children so it is good to inform them on what’s going (Afifi, T. D., Schrodt, P., & McManus, T). Keeping the line of communication open can benefit them on understanding the process of the divorce.

Some parents leave gaps between the divorce circles. Normally once children see where the gaps aren’t filled they will start to “fill in the blank” (Stone, 2013). They will start to realize why the parents are divorcing and start to blame themselves. The child should keep close contact with both parents. Researchers show that kids who do not spend enough time with either parent can cause tension between mother and child or father and child.

Some do’s and don’ts that are beneficial are:

  • Do let your children know it is okay to love both Mom and Dad as they did before the divorce
  • Do support your children's relationship with their other parent.
  • Do listen to your children.
  • Don't badmouth, judge or criticize your child's other parent.
  • Don't expose your children to divorce details.
  • Don't use your children as messengers or spies.
  • Don't retaliate when the other parent says or does damaging things (Lehman, 2015).

Having control of the child’s well-being is important. It can be hard to continue normal life for a while. It’s good to be honest and straightforward when it comes to discussing the divorce process. The child will understand more if the reason for the divorce was because of “falling out of love” or “just cannot tolerate each other” (McManus & Nussbaum, 2011). Rather than making up something that would sound good for them to hear. Keeping the communication informative and not emotional works better. Addressing changes that may occur during the divorce process can make things smooth. It’s important for the child to know whether mom and dad are splitting up or if he or she will be staying or visiting opposite parents.

Once understanding that the child is the main priority then everything will fall into place. It’s important to talk to your child every day to see where their head is at. Letting them know that the parents decision has nothing to do with the child. Also letting the child know that they are loved and will always be loved. It’s better to show the child of how great communication works rather telling and not doing.

Parents should not only rely on themselves to be the ear a child need. Other options like family therapy as a group or one on one counseling for the child. It is in the child’s best interest for them to have a neutral individual (Afifi et al. 2009). That individual can help the child cope with the transition from being in a single family home to whatever the changes may be (Cohen et al. 2014). As long as the parent makes the environment safe for communication it would better the outcome. Children who feel safe talking to their parents grow up as better communicators overall. They will be more likely to have healthy communication in their own adult relationships, with their spouses and children.


As discussed throughout this paper, divorce affects the child’s relationships, behavior, and communication. It is important for parents that are planning to divorce or who have divorced to understand these effects in order to try and avoid the major implications a divorce has on the children. Through the decrease in a child’s relationship with parents and siblings, major changes in behavior, and ineffective communication habits, it goes to show that divorce is most commonly imposing a negative effect on those involved, especially the children.

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