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How Divorce Affects Children

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Think of the Children!

The Affects of Divorce on Children

divorce-njWhen considering a divorce, the first thing that might pop into your mind is divorce affects children. Keeping children happy and healthy is a parental instinct. Often times parents’ view divorce as something that will have a severely negative affect on this happiness and emotional health. Many of us know or have heard countless stories of couples who “stayed together for the kids,” or delayed divorce until they reached adulthood. While this may work for some couples, it is not healthy for most to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sole purpose of keeping the children’s status quo.

Numerous studies have been conducted on how divorce affects children, but the fact remains that every family and every divorce is different.

According to Scientific American, a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or later in life as adults. Most children are affected in the short-term, but research suggests that they recover rapidly after the initial impact.

A 2002 study conducted by University of Virginia psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington and her graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore found that many children experience negative affects in the short-term, including anxiety, anger, shock, and disbelief; however, by the end of the second year these feelings usually lessen or disappear.

In 2001, sociologist Paul R. Amato examined the affects on children several years after divorce. Children who experienced divorce at different ages were followed into their later childhood, adolescence or teenage years. The study found that on average there were only very small differences between these children and children of non-divorced parents in their academic achievement, emotional and behavior problems, delinquency, self-concept and social relationships.

how-divorce-affects-childrenResearch has showed that high levels of parental conflict during and after divorce are linked to more difficult adjustment in children; however, in some cases children who are from high conflict families welcome divorce as a relief from parental fighting, while those who have not witnessed any marital conflict can be more shocked or scared by the news.

While there are claims that suggest divorce leads to serious issues in adulthood like depression and relationship problems, such as in the the 2000 book entitled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, by Judith Wallerstein and her colleagues, scientific research does not support the notion that such problems are frequent in adulthood.

On the contrary, many studies have found that most children of divorce become well-adjusted adults; the 2002 book, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, by E. Mavis Hetherington and her co-author, journalist John Kelly, details a the 25-year study in which she followed children of divorce and children whose parents stayed together. Hetherington found that 25 percent of the adults whose parents divorced experienced serious social, emotional or psychological troubles compared to 10 percent of those whose parents stayed together, which suggests that only 15 percent of adult children of divorce experience problems worse than those from intact families.

Ultimately, research cannot determine what causes or affects this difference, but factors such as poor parenting and the characteristics of the children are likely to play a role.

A large part of how divorce affects children is due to how parent’s handle the divorce themselves. The emotional toll of divorce on couples and the stress it produces can lead to an unintentional drop in the quality of parenting during the process. Trying to keep the stable environment the children are used to is key to their success. Some changes are inevitable, but the amount of emotional support, love, and care given is in the hands of parents.

If one or more parents are not doing well emotionally, it is likely that the children will suffer as well; therefore, a parent should try to recognize their own personal issues and seek professional help. This is especially important for the parent of primary residence.

divorce-affects-childrenChildren who witness constant fighting between their parents have a harder time adjusting. Criticism of the other parent causes tension and can be just as destructive as fighting. The best way to help children is to have all divorce and custody discussions, whether peaceful or argumentative, in private. Children should only be involved in calm clear discussions that either explain how their daily lives will be affected or to understand their feelings and wishes.

Cooperative parents can protect children from the stress of divorce. There are many resources for parents wishing to help their children adjust, such as, which offers valuable advice on how to break the news, handle reactions, and aid in the coping process.

While the fear of how divorce affects children is a logical one, parents must keep in mind that they have significant control over those affects. Of course, divorce is not the ideal situation for any family, but in certain circumstances it can be the right solution. It does not always translate to negative affects on children, especially if they have at least one parent willing to put them first.

If you fear your children will be negatively affected by your divorce it is best to consult with a family counselor or therapist and discuss your thoughts with your divorce attorney or mediator, who may provide insight into this very common concern.


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A parenting plan is undoubtedly one of the most emotional parts of working toward a full Marital Settlement Agreement. Many parents may fear that their time will be unfairly restricted. Knowing what to expect before beginning to develop a plan will ease stress and help lead to a fair agreement that is in the best interest of the children and fair to each parent.


parenting planThe first major decision to be made when entering into a parenting plan is the type of custody. Naturally, most parents would like as much time as possible with their children while still ensuring they have liberal access to the other parent. Types of custody include: sole legal and physical custody, joint legal and physical custody, joint legal custody with one parent designated the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) and the other the Parent of Alternative Residence (PAR).

Before discussing this with your spouse or attorney it is wise to take some time to gather your thoughts and set your expectations. What is the current parenting situation? Has one parent been the primary caregiver? How will your schedule (and your spouse’s) change after the divorce? What are the children’s expectations?

Once you have answered these types of questions, set real expectations. For example, if both parents have been equally involved in parenting thus far, joint legal and physical custody is a likely outcome. Give yourself an idea of what you are willing to compromise on. When you feel ready, discuss your expectations with your spouse and mediator or attorney. You and your spouse may be on the same page, and if not your divorce mediator or attorney will guide you through the process of settlement.


This schedule is necessary to determine where the children will reside each day of the year, what contact they will have with each parent, and how the pick up and drop off will work. A typical residential schedule will set forth the parenting time of the PAR, which may include alternate weekends and weekly dinner visits. It is important to agree upon exact start and end times for the parenting time in the plan; however, these times can be changed upon verbal or written agreement of both parents. In the event that one parent is not adhering to the agreement, the executed parenting plan will be followed.

Other issues to be addressed include school and social events, activities, camps, sporting and extracurricular events, transportation, and delays in pick up and drop off. In this section you may also address the use of childcare and babysitters during the custodial parenting time and how to proceed with introducing the child to a serious significant other.

Regardless of the custody arrangement, children should have liberal access to both parents via telephone or video calls when appropriate. Decide upon what time and how often calls may be allowed.


The comprehensive parenting plan will also set forth the detailed schedule for Holidays. Each parent will have odd or even years to spend with the child for each holiday, school break, and the child’s birthday. This can be negotiated with your spouse if you wish to have parenting time every year on a certain holiday. Holidays must be defined with start and end times; for instance, Christmas Eve may be defined as 4pm to noon on Christmas day. Make sure to tell your mediator or attorney about all the holidays you celebrate.


The parenting plan will usually discuss the vacation time each parent is entitled to. The allotted vacation time is personal to each parent. The parenting plan will lay out details such as informing one another of itineraries, phone contact, and obtaining the child’s passport. With the consent of both parties’ additional vacation time may be taken even after the agreement is in effect.


Unless otherwise agreed upon, the parenting plan will entitle both parents to all medical and school information. This includes any information, documents, and communication from the child’s pediatrician, general physician, dentist, specialist, counselor, consultant attending the child, or reports or communication from any teacher or school giving instruction to the child.


parenting time This is usually broken down into two categories: day-to-day and major decisions. It is highly likely that your parenting plan will give the authority of day-to-day decisions to the parent with whom the child is residing that day. Major decisions such as those involving health, education, religion, and other important matters will almost always require consulting with one another in a joint custody arrangement, regardless of whether one parent has been given the right to make the final decision if an agreement cannot be made. The procedure for emergency decisions should also be discussed to minimize future conflict.

Familiarizing yourself with what a parenting plan entails will help you move through the divorce mediation or litigation journey with less stress. Children are the most important part of any divorce and their best interests should always be put first.