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Typical effects of divorce felt by children

Children who are aware of and exposed to their parents’ divorce can be left distraught. This can lead to issues in their life. Some of the most common issues that can impact a child if their parents are divorcing, both short-term and long-term, include:

Problems with behaviour and socialising

One of the most common effects of a divorce is children becoming unable to socialise properly and developing issues relating to their behaviour. They may have a short temper that often leads to physical or verbal abuse and, if nothing is done about it, this can sometimes lead to social issues such as engagement in criminal behaviour further down the road. Divorce can cause them to be aggressive and can make them feel like they don’t fit into society.

Sadness leading to depression

Many children are heartbroken by the divorce of their parents, leading to sadness and, in some cases, depression. Depression is a significant mental health condition which can be a very big issue. It can be a problem throughout the duration of a child’s life.

Mood swings

Another common issue as a result of divorce is that children can suffer from mood swings, becoming very impulsive and irritable. Children may refuse to speak to familiar people or do familiar activities, opting to spend their time alone in their own quiet space.

Prolonged stress

Stress is also a very common experience amongst children whose parents are divorcing, a common reason being that children may consider themselves to be the reason behind their parents’ divorce. Children who think this, often feel as though they have to be the ones to fix the relationship, which places a large amount of pressure and stress on their shoulders.

Nervousness and anxiety

Finally, a common effect of divorce is the development of nervousness and anxiety in children. The child may be anxious in various situations and may not be able to concentrate or sustain interest in certain things, such as schoolwork.

How to protect children during divorce

As a parent, your biggest responsibility is protecting your children at all times. This is no different when you are going through a difficult time. Your divorce can have a big, lasting impact on your children, so it’s important that you do everything within your power to protect them from the damage that a divorce can cause. Here are some of the ways that parents can help to minimise the damage caused to their children during a divorce:

Prepare your children properly and take a considered approach to informing them of the divorce

When children first hear of the divorce between their parents, it can be a very difficult and confusing time for them, so you should ensure that you tell them in the correct way. You should tell them in good time, ensuring that they know that the divorce is not their fault. Also ensure you do not place the blame onto your former partner.

To ease the divorce process for your children, make sure that you are prepared (as far as you can be) for the conversations you have with your children. Talk through what their feelings and concerns are early on so you can be ready to support them appropriately.

You should also help your children be prepared for the things they will face. Talk to them ahead of time about big changes and give them time to grow accustomed to the idea and prepare themselves emotionally before things change. There will likely be information they need to be shielded from, but as far as possible keep them informed and tell them things in good time.

Ease your children into it

Things will get really overwhelming for your children if all the big changes happen at once or in quick succession. Try to plan the separation process in stages. Give your children warning ahead of time about big changes, like one parent moving out. Then, make sure they have time to adapt and adjust to their new situation before exposing them to further changes, like introducing them to a new partner.

It can also help to ease them into changes of situation if you help your children to get a grasp of what things will be like in the lead-up to the next big event taking place. For example, suppose you are moving out of the family home. Once you have told them this is going to happen but before you have actually left, you could tell them where you will be living and take them to see the place or its surrounding area. This will give them some solid idea of what things will be like, rather than leaving it as a much scarier mystery. It can help them come to terms with the idea that you really do have a new home elsewhere and, perhaps more importantly, that it is an ordinary place that they have already started to visit.

Ensure that both parents are involved in the children’s lives

This is arguably the most important thing for you to do and it can be extremely effective in protecting your children. It’s thought that children with divorced parents lead a much happier and complete life when both parents remain an active part of their upbringing.

Therefore, if it’s possible for you to do so, you should consider:

  • (regularly) doing fun activities as a family

  • celebrating birthdays and other special occasions together

  • both parents being active in the child’s day-to-day life. 

You could also look to keep a routine going that allows both parents to play an important role in the children’s lives and ensures that children get to spend quality time with both parents. For example, create a timetable of when you plan to spend time with your children and stick to this.

Keep proceedings as short and as pleasant as possible

The longer that divorce proceedings go on, the more difficult life during and after the divorce can become. Not only can the parents find the divorce stressful, the children can too, and if the proceedings drag on the children can feel as though they are in the middle causing all of the upset. 

Further help

For more information about the divorce and separation process, read Separating from your spouse or civil partner, Divorce and financial arrangements, How to get a divorce or dissolution, Child custody, and Child custody in Scotland.

If you need help with a divorce, you can use Rocket Lawyer’s Divorce service. You can Ask a lawyer any questions. You can also create all of the necessary documents to ensure a smooth transition, for example, a Separation agreement or a Parental responsibility agreement.


Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith
Head of Family Law at K J Smith Solicitors

K J Smith Solicitors are specialists in family law, experienced in all matters relating to divorce, civil partnerships, cohabitation disputes and collaborative law.

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