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The Many Ways Divorce Is Bad For The Child

Is divorce bad for a child? It has been argued that the divorce of parents should not be considered a single event when analyzing its potentially negative psychological effect on children but rather as a combination of events. These include:

  • the tension/hostility between parents that the child witnesses (although, of course, some divorces are conducted on far more amicable terms than others such as those that drive participants to domestic violence)
  • the loss of contact, or reduction in contact with not only one of the parents but with some of the extended family as well
  • the ‘parental alienation’ that may result from acrimonious divorces such as one parent poison’s the child’s mind against the other parent either out of spite and revenge or for reasons of gaining custody of the child
  • having to move house, perhaps to a much less sought after or economically deprived area 
  • having to change schools and loss of certain friendship groups
  • a reduction in financial status
  • having to adjust to a parent’s new partner or new spouse
  • having to adjust to step-siblings


Whilst research has shown that there are several negative psychological effects a child may suffer as a result of divorce including an elevated risk of suffering from a mental illness (including anxiety and depression), impaired performance at school (including inattention and hyperactivity), an increased risk of ‘acting out’ and anti-social behaviour, and an increase in psychological and emotional dependency, there are also factors at play which will affect the child’s resilience and his/her ability to cope. Patterson and  McCubbin (1987)  identified 12 coping responses including expressing feelings, developing social support, nurturing close friendships, gaining professional support (e.g. from a counselor), taking part in challenging activities, and making time to relax.

Frydenberg and Lewis (1993) identified similar coping strategies to those identified by Patterson and McCubbin but also highlighted non-productive coping responses such as worrying, ignoring problems, self-blame, and withdrawal into self.

Finally, according to (Garmezy, 1994) factors that help the adolescent cope include:

  • the child receives stable and reliable care
  • the child is popular with peers
  • the child is popular with adults
  • the child has various competencies and perceives him/herself as possessing these
  • the child is good at planning and has ambitions

You may wish to read my related article:

Divorce: Signs Children Are Being Used As Pawns Or Weapons

Parental Alienation Syndrome And Its Effects On Children