Impact of Divorce: Children’s reactions

Approximately half of all children experience the divorce of their parents (National Center for Health Statistics, 2008), and the negative impact of divorce has been widely studied and debated. While researchers generally agree that children of divorce are at-risk for negative outcomes, questions persist about study findings given methodological limitations.
Parental divorce is associated with divorce in adult children, with estimates suggesting that adult children of divorce are nearly twice as likely to divorce themselves (Amato & DeBoer, 2001)). While intergenerational divorce has been widely studied, the effect of parental divorce likely extends beyond divorce rates in affected children. Individual differences in adjustment was highlighted by Hetherington and Kelly (2002) in a study finding that 25% of individuals whose parents divorce have serious long-term social, emotional, or psychological problems in adulthood. This highlights that 75% of individuals do not have serious long-term impairment during adulthood following their parents’ divorce.

It is also unclear whether younger children fare better following parent divorce, or even if they fully understand the family changes that are occurring. Ebling, Pruett, and Pruett (2009) studied children ages 3.5 to 7.5 and found that most children provided accurate descriptions of divorce processes. Common themes that found in play therapy regarding their parents’ divorce included desires for parental reunion and worries about security. Another study also found that young children may feel more anxious about abandonment than older children, and are more likely to blame themselves as the cause of divorce and have poorer ability to identify and use coping resources outside the family (Hetherington, 1989). The introduction of new partners in the parents’ lives may further exacerbate feelings of potential abandonment.