Tag Archives: Effects Of Divorce On Children

Divorce : Signs Children Are Being Used As Pawns Or Weapons


Introduction :

I have already published on this site articles which examine the potentially very psychologically damaging effects that divorce, particularly a  divorce that is acrimonious, can inflict upon the child. My own parents divorced when I was eight years old, so I do have some personal experience in relation to this subject.

When parents who separate feel extremely bitter, hostile, or, even, vengeful towards one another, it is a sad fact that some use their own children as pawns, or weapons, in an attempt to hurt and punish one another (or, of course, just one parent may act in this way). When this occurs, the distress the child feels as a result of his/her parents’ divorce is likely to be compounded and potentially induce in him/her a state of profound mental conflict and confusion as a result of split loyalties that are impossible to resolve.

It is important to ask, then, what are the signs that a child is being used as a pawn/weapon in such a manner? I list some of these below:

Signs The Child Is Being Used As A Pawn / Weapon :

  • preventing the child from seeing/speaking to / contacting the other parent
  • deceiving the child into believing that the other parent is to blame for the collapse of the marriage
  • exploiting the child by making him/her a ‘go-between’ / messenger to relay messages, particularly hostile, critical and disparaging messages, to the other parent
  • pressurising the child into taking sides
  • asking the child whom (i.e. which parent) they love more
  • questioning the child about the other parent’s behaviour/ using the child as a kind of ‘spy’ to gain ‘ incriminating’ information about the other parent
  • cancelling visitation at short notice to punish the other parent
  • causing, on purpose, the child to be late for visitation to punish the other parent
  • undermining the other parent’s reasonable rules, decisions and discipline merely to antagonize and frustrate him/her (i.e. the other parent)
  • openly displaying aggression and hostility towards the other parent in front of the child

children used as pawns in divorce

Using The Child As An Emotional Crutch :

When my parents got divorced, my mother started to use me as a sort of personal counsellor; she even, shamelessly, referred to me as her ‘own Little Psychiatrist’; it was always her life we discussed, never, or extremely rarely and briefly, mine. For this reason, and many others which I have written about elsewhere on this site, I feel I was largely robbed of my childhood; this has had terrible repercussions on my adult life (which I have also written about elsewhere on this site).

Indeed, it is not uncommon for parents, in the wake of a stressful divorce, to treat their child as a confidante, a friend, a spouse or even a parent (click here to read my article about the phenomenon of parentification and its potentially extremely psychologically damaging effects) and use him/her for emotional support that s/he is not developmentally mature enough to cope with and at a time when s/he (the child) is him/herself in particular need of emotional support. This is particularly the case if such confiding in the child involves spitefully ‘turning the child against’ the other parent.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE (FAHE).


The Effect Of Divorce On Children

What Is The Effect Of Divorce On Children?

My own parents divorced when I was eight years old. Initially, when my father left, in order to ‘protect’ me (I assume) my mother told me that my father had moved away to ‘be nearer work’ (he worked in central London and we lived about twenty miles away in a small town called Rickmansworth). She went on to say that if it turned out to be more convenient for him, he would not come back (and, of course, he never did). You can imagine my confusion and distress.


Sadly, divorce is now extremely common in the UK. I provide some statistics relating to how this affects children below:

– about 25 ℅ of families with dependent children are single-parent families

– about 40 ℅ of these families live in relative poverty

– the majority of single-parent families do not receive any maintenance money from the absent parent

– about 10℅ of single families are headed by the father, with the remaining 90℅ being headed by the mother

(Sorce: Gingerbread)

5 Stages Of Grief:

The psychologist Kubler-Ross delineated 5 types of emotional reaction a child may go through following the divorce of his/her parents. These 5 stages are:

1) Denial

2) Anger

3) Bargaining

4) Depression

5) Acceptance

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

DENIAL – Unable to absorb the painful reality that the parents are splitting up, the child tries to convince him/herself that it’s not happening. For example, the child might keep telling him/herself that the parents are bound soon to reunite.

ANGER – The child may be angry at one, or both, parents. This is sometimes not helped by the fact that in some acrimonious divorces each parent may try to turn the child against the other parent ; it goes without saying that this can be extremely emotionally damaging to the child

BARGAINING – in this stage the child has still not come to terms with the situation and may try to convince him/herself that it can be ‘bargained out of.’ For example, the child may think : ‘If I’m always on my best behaviour from now on maybe my parents will get back together. They may think along such lines as it is not uncommon for young people to (irrationally) blame themselves for their parents’ divorce)

DEPRESSION – Reality finally hits and sinks in leading to the child becoming sad/depressed (click here for an infographic about childhood depression). Whilst this stage is painful, it is psychologically necessary.

ACCEPTANCE – This final stage does not necessarily mean that the child is fully emotionally recovered, but signals the fact that s/he is through the worst of the depression


Factors That May Increase The Child’s Psychological Resilience:

The psychologist Bananno suggested that some children may be quite resilient to the adverse effects of divorce, especially if the parent s/he continues to live with remains strong and positive and the child also receives good emotional support. Also, despite the divorce, the more positive things the child still has in his/her life (friends, clubs etc), the more resilient s/he is likely to be.

I am sure that in my own case the emotional damage I incurred as a result of my parents’ divorce was greatly amplified by the fact that, soon after it occurred, I became my mother’s psychological carer/counsellor. Indeed, she used to refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist.’  In connection with this, click here to read my article on the harm done to children when they become ‘parentified.:

Important Further Points About The Above Five Stages:

Finally, it is important to point out that Kubler-Ross stated that the above 5 stages can occur in any order and that not everyone experiences all 5. Furthermore, some individuals may well experience other emotions not listed within the above 5 in relation to their patents’ divorce.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Possible Effects of Divorce on Children

effects of divorce on children

My own parents divorced in the scorching summer of 1976, when I was 8 years old. At prep school, I was the only boy in the class with divorced parents. I was deeply ashamed of this fact, and I did my best to keep it a secret.

I was so disturbed by my home life that, during this period of my life, the teachers at my school thought I was developing deafness as I would never respond when my name was called – instead, I would be sitting in a kind of oblivious trance (this is what psychologists term a’ dissociative state’, or’ psychologically detaching’ from the pain of reality as a defense mechanism).

Indeed, when I was taken to see a doctor it was confirmed that there was nothing wrong with my ears. Unfortunately, however, my parents did not regard it as necessary to arrange counselling for me, even though I was displaying other worrying signs of emotional problems during this time.

Today, divorce is far more common than it was in the 1970s, and much less stigmatized. However, the potential adverse effects of divorce upon children can still be just as devastating as they have always been. Indeed, such effects can be carried into adult life, and, therefore, be passed on to the next generation.

effects_of_divorce_on_children, coping_with_divorce




REDUCED EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT : studies have shown that children of divorced parents can have a reduced capacity for learning and perform, on average, worse in maths, spelling and reading than there peers

POVERTY : divorce results in a large drop in household income and, in the USA, 50% of children from divorced families are placed into poverty as a consequence.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE : children of divorced parents are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, particularly in order to try to cope with the emotional pain of conflict and rejection.

CRIME : children of divorced parents are more likely to become involved with crime. For example, a study by Robert Sampson, from the University of Chicago, showed that the divorce rate of specific areas was predictive  of the number of robberies carried out

RELATIONSHIPS – divorce can weaken the relationship between the parents and the child. It can also lead to the child developing destructive ways of handling conflict which can persist into adult life. Indeed, children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce their own partners in adult life. Furthermore, children of divorced parents show less desire to have children themselves when they become adults.

Children of divorced parents also often find in later life that their own capacity to have deep and trusting relationships has been reduced. Also, if, as adults, they do decide to have children, they will often struggle to create a positive and healthy environment for their families to live in.

NEGLECT : children of divorced parents are twice as likely to suffer neglect. Studies have shown that divorced mothers tend to be less able to provide their children with emotional support and divorced fathers are less likely to have a close relationship with their children.



the child of divorced parents may :

– become prone to rage and anger

– become anxious/fearful

–  become depressed

– feel rejected

– experience a sense of conflicting loyalties

– feel extremely lonely

– find that their confidence and self-esteem has been damaged



www.divorceresource.co.uk – CLICK HERE


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Above eBook by David Hosier MSc available for INSTANT DOWNLOAD from Amazon. CLICK HERE.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).