How Divorce Can Impact Your Children

Sad little girl is looking at camera while her parents are arguing in the background - impact of divorce on children concept

For any parent going through a divorce, the impact of divorce on children is a primary concern. We have all heard horror stories of children put in the middle of their parents’ nasty divorce, and many divorcing parents have, themselves, been children of divorce. They may have their own painful memories and want to do everything possible to protect their children.

It would be a disservice to suggest that divorce doesn’t have a significant impact on children (not to mention untrue). How could it not? It is a major change to their lives and family structure. But the good news is that divorce can also affect children in a positive way, and there are things you can do as a parent to minimize the negative effects of divorce on children. If you are preparing to divorce, thinking about how to help your children navigate the process and its aftermath is essential.

How Does Divorce Affect Children?

The media has done a good job of painting a doom-and-gloom picture of the impact of divorce on children. It’s true that divorce makes some things more difficult for kids. It’s usually easier for kids to have one home than to have to shuttle back and forth between homes, for instance.

As a parent, you may feel guilt about how your decision to divorce has caused stress or challenges for your children. It’s important to remember that the choice you had wasn’t one between a perfect, idyllic family unit for your children and a “broken home.” It was between a marriage that wasn’t working and the opportunity to build a life that does—for all of you. Consider some of the ways that divorce can actually make life better for your kids.

Positive Effects of Divorce on Children

It may seem strange to think that divorce can actually make a child’s life better, but on many levels, it can. Some of the potential positive impacts of divorce on children include:

  • More peaceful home environment: If you and your spouse were fighting or not speaking to each other, chances are that even very young children could feel the tension and were stressed by it. After a divorce, it’s likely that parents and children alike can relax a bit.
  • Freedom from abuse: If one parent was abusive, whether verbally, physically, or otherwise, a divorce can literally mean increased safety or security for children.
  • More one-on-one time with each parent: Having to divide time between households may not be ideal, but doing so may mean a child gets to develop stronger relationships with each parent during their time with them.
  • Getting to experience each parent’s strengths: When parents are married and living together, it’s not uncommon for one parent to do more of the caregiving, especially if they are at home with the kids while the other works. When each parent gets the opportunity to be the “parent in charge,” kids get to benefit from their individual parenting styles and strengths.
  • Resilience and adaptability: Navigating their parents’ divorce and moving back and forth may not always be fun for children. But it can help them to be more resilient, flexible, and adaptable, which may serve them well throughout their lives. Watching you deal with divorce can teach your children these things, too, as they see you navigate difficulties and come out stronger on the other side.
  • Conflict resolution: When parents work together to put their children first and to co-parent well for their childrens’ sake, children can learn a lot about conflict resolution and how to cooperate with someone even when the relationship is challenging.

These benefits don’t always materialize automatically, of course; it’s up to parents to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities to be more fully present with and for their children.

Negative Effects of Divorce on Children

Even if divorce is the best decision for parents and their children, it can still have a negative impact for the children on some levels. Divorce is unpleasant for parents, but they at least have some element of control over the process. Kids often have no input into an event that radically changes their lives. They may have to move out of their home and away from familiar friends and school. There may be less financial security, and perhaps less time with a formerly at-home parent if that parent now has to work.

Moving back and forth between homes can be disruptive for children, especially when an item is left at one parent’s house and needed at the other. More sensitive children may barely have time to “settle in” at one home before needing to transition back to the other. All of that assumes that parents live close enough to each other for both to have regular parenting time. If parents live far apart, children may need to go weeks or months without getting to spend in-person time with a parent.

Also, just because parents are no longer fighting in the same household doesn’t mean they’re not still fighting. Exposing your children to your conflict with their other parent can make them feel even more vulnerable and as if they are being forced to choose between their parents. In the worst situations, one parent may completely alienate their children from the other parent.

Minimizing the Negative Impact of Divorce on Children

There are a number of things that you, as a parent, can do to mitigate the negative effects of divorce on your children—starting with how you divorce. Committing to a less-adversarial divorce process such as Collaborative divorce or divorce mediation can reduce the hostility in the process, making it less stressful for both you and your children. In addition, Collaborative divorce offers the option of having a Child Specialist involved. The Child Specialist serves as a voice for your children in your divorce process, helping you to better understand and meet their needs.

Another way you can make divorce easier on your children is to avoid speaking negatively of their other parent, especially in their presence. If you do find yourself getting into an argument around your kids, take a breath and remind yourself and your partner that your kids did not choose to be in the middle of conflict. You should also avoid doing other things that put your children in the middle of your conflict, including using them to pass messages to the other parent. As much as possible, facilitate communication between your children and the other parent. Strive to avoid making your children feel bad or guilty when they leave you to spend time with their other parent.

Loss of routine can be difficult for children, so try to give them as much predictability and stability as possible without being rigid or inflexible. It’s good for kids to know which days they’ll be with one parent or the other, and that they’ll still be able to go to dad’s family’s annual summer reunion at the lake or mom’s family’s Christmas Eve party. Another way to help kids feel more stable in the aftermath of a divorce is to avoid introducing new partners to them too soon, especially if you are not committed to each other.

Last but not least, allow your kids to have and express their feelings. It can be hard to see them unhappy, but it’s worse for them to feel that they have to protect you from their feelings. Don’t shy away from getting therapy for them or for yourself as needed. Having a child in therapy isn’t a sign that you’ve failed or harmed them, but that you are putting their well-being first.

One of our attorneys at Brinkley Law Firm LLC is a child of divorce. Here is a quote from them reflecting on their personal experience.

“I can’t tell you which of my parents had us more often than the other. I can’t remember if I had more Christmases with my mom or my dad. What I can tell you is that my parents almost never said anything disparaging to us about the other parent, and if they ever did, they owned up to that mistake. Without fail, I was more upset with the parent who said something bad about the other parent than I was about whatever my other parent had allegedly done. As bad as their divorce was at times, I believe they did their best to insulate us from it and I am forever grateful for that fact. That, and the year they failed to coordinate Christmas presents and I got two PlayStations.”

To learn more about the effects of divorce on children and how to help your children navigate your divorce, contact Brinkley Law Firm LLC to schedule a consultation.