The Effects Of Divorce On Children

Dealing With Divorce: How It Affects A Family (and especially the children)


Divorce is widely recognized as the second greatest hardship and cause of pain for adults; second only to the loss of a child.

That is for fully grown, psychologically mature adults.

What about your kids, who have zero skills coping with gut-wrenching emotions and attachments?

What do you think will happen to your children if you go through with your divorce?

You know your kids better than anyone else. How are they going to handle the strain and turmoil of their parents, their whole world, breaking? Think about the changes they will have to contend with. It’s a good idea to imagine the worst as that will be most accurate.

This article will honestly only confirm what you already suspected but hoped was not true. Unfortunately, the reality is much worse than you imagined.

My experiences as a divorce mediator, and now a marriage healer, have put me in a position to gather knowledge from countless first-person accounts. I’ve come to two monumental conclusions, both of which are provable beyond a doubt. They are:

  1. NO children escape from the pain and far-reaching burdens caused by their parent’s divorce.
  2. It is MUCH easier to save your marriage and is a much more realistic an option than people think.

Unfortunately, although you would expect otherwise, you won’t hear either point from most Marriage and Family Therapists. One therapist from Orange County, California told me it’s now regularly taught to them in their psychology training that children of divorce will be okay, and no one should worry about them.


They know full well that the kids won’t be fine. The data is abundant, clear, and NO studies show differently. But because the success rate of traditional marriage counseling is under 10%, they normalize divorce, and of course the inevitable effects on children of divorce.

I guarantee that after you read this, you won’t agree with them any more than I do. In this article, I will share with you the following:

  • Statistics, along with my commentary
  • The logical outcome for kids of divorce
  • My experience with my own kids
  • How to get out of the divorce funnel completely

The Bottom Line

For those who like to skip ahead, the bottom line is that your children are already adversely affected, and it will get worse from here. Here’s why:

  1. When parents aren’t getting along, their children are not fully protected or nurtured. How could it be otherwise? Their harmonious, protective nest is disrupted.
  2. Parents who are going through the divorce process itself are not fully there for their kids. TV and video games are NOT parenting attentiveness. Human children are not like the offspring of snakes, turtles or spiders. Human children are spiritual and psychological. They require harmonious homes to grow up properly, protected from life’s storms.
  3. The new, convoluted, and unstable lifestyle that comes with having two households is the worst imaginable scenario for children. We imagine they will have two “homes”, but that really translates into no home. They basically live out of their suitcases. This is the group of kids for which reliable and telling statistics exist.

There are no protections from the above. Destructiveness to your children is not due to a lack of love or money. Look at the children of divorced wealthy people, like movie stars. They are far from shining examples of stability. Statistically speaking, in fact, none of money, race, religion, education, or any other demographic most would think of that “should” affect the kids, don’t. An intact home is necessary for ALL children. Everyone I’ve ever spoken with about this expressed regret at having divorced because of the negative impact on their children. Not one told me it was worth it.

No child is detached enough to shrug off the outer signs of trauma, much less the inner turmoil. Teachers easily recognize when a kid’s parents are breaking up. They have seen their shining star kids so dramatically impacted that it would make you cry.

Kids are crippled for life by the turmoil of missing parents. But it doesn’t end there. As adults, they pass on residual psychological impacts to their children, and their children’s children much the same way concentration camp survivors or ex-combat veterans impact their kids for generations to come. The biggest difference, frankly, is that divorce is a parent’s choice.

You don’t have to get a divorce. Most parents, unlike survivors and vets, can choose to stay married and choose to make their home safe for their children again. They can still fill it with love and parental harmony; even if their children are the only reason. I will discuss how to create family harmony at the end.

Statistics, With My Commentary

The statistics I chose are from independent, unbiased, scientific studies. My comments are based on my unique and successful approach to helping marriages, which has a long and well-established track record.

Research has shown when one partner is a child of divorce; the chances of that couple divorcing are double (Fincham & Stanley, 2002). When both partners are children of divorce, the chances of divorce triple.


Divorce and its effects on the development of children, Lisa Baron, 2010

Most of us are not quitters. But we see our friends and family divorce, and many are people who we thought were happily married. We also all know the divorce rate is above 50%. So, there is a general skepticism about marriage. The total package of what we see ‘out there’ makes us think we can’t do it either so why try?

There are reasons for giving up that transcend individual determination to remain married.

  1. We lose hope because we see everyone else splitting up.
  2. We lose hope because our spouse does not seem to love us anymore, or some even betray us with infidelity and so forth.
  3. We do not know how to recover our marriage.
  4. Divorce is so common there is hardly any stigma associated with it anymore.

Our kids are faced with exactly the same environmental discouragement plus they learned from their role-models that it’s “okay”.

Our results suggest that divorce has consequences for [at least three] generations, including individuals who were not yet born at the time of the original divorce…. including lower education, more marital discord, more divorce, and greater tension in early parent‐child relationships. In supplementary analyses, we found no evidence that the estimated effects of divorce differed by offspring gender or became weaker over time.


The long reach of divorce: Divorce and child well‐being across three generations, Paul R. Amato & Jacob Cheadele, 2005

This statistic is mostly caused by psychological impairment because the strain of divorce makes the children become insecure parents themselves. They are unsure of themselves as parents. Their own parents “blew it” and so they lack the benefit of role-models whom they could confidently point to as experts. In cultures where families continue for generation after generation, it is observable how confident parents are. They don’t need books. They have real experience. They know just what to do and when.

For men, the parental divorce-suicidal ideation relationship remained statistically significant (Odds ratio 2.36).


Suicidal ideation among individuals whose parents have divorced: findings from a representative Canadian community survey, Fuller-Thomson E1, Dalton AD, 2010

This means that boys of divorce are 2.36 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts as adults, controlling for other possible factors.

Women are 50% more likely to attempt suicide over their lifetime. (Not a quote, but read directly from their table of results.)


Parental Divorce, Parental Depression, and Gender Differences in Adult Offspring Suicide Attempt, Dana Lizardi, et al, 2009

While men are significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts than men from intact families, women are more likely to attempt it over their lifetime than women from intact families.

There is a similar statistic for prisoners, where over 90% of all come from broken homes, but I didn’t include it as a primary statistic because I think there are too many other factors. But the suicide rates are sobering. Everyone says, “It won’t happen to my kids,” but the statistics say otherwise.

Children of divorce reported significantly more substance-using friends and less use of coping and social skills than children whose parents had not divorced.


Neher, L. S., & Short, J. L. (1998

I think the way this study was designed allowed kids to speak honestly about themselves without fear of being caught. Drugs and alcohol are the escape portals used to gain a temporary break from life. It is all about psychological escape.  This statistic speaks about the general weight put on the shoulders of children. Instead of playing, exploring, and generally enjoying their childhood, children from divorced homes are forced to make choices, choose sides and rationalize their situation. It isn’t fair to do this to your kids. Your divorce will push them into behaviors they wouldn’t otherwise think about.

The Logical Outcome For Kids Of Divorce

We know our children have needs far beyond mere physical survival. All the studies prove effects based on what is missing from their life: an intact family environment. Intact and loving is the ‘normal’ condition for children. So, when a child loses that vital environment their lives shatter, just like a glass hitting the floor.

Children should never be weaned from familial love and harmony. Unconditional love should span generations, providing a continuum of loving security.

It’s different if you have no choice. Stuff happens. If a spouse is a criminal or gets hooked on cocaine or is a pedophile, the other spouse actually has to choose their children over the marriage because the safety of the kids has to be first, by a lot. But nowadays the phony catchphrases like “emotional abuse” or “narcissistic” have become common excuses for not addressing the underlying problems in a marriage, and I don’t consider them good reasons for destroying children’s lives with divorce. Especially when the means to address those problems are readily available.

Statistics show us conclusively that divorces have devastating short and long-term effects on our children that cannot be ignored.

My Experience With My Own Kids

My own experience was probably not unlike yours in many ways. Before I became a divorce mediator, my first marriage ended in divorce. It hurt my kids for life. I don’t want you to go through what I am still going through.

The culture I grew up in was a deterrent to divorce. Only one of my relatives was divorced when I was a kid and he was treated like an outcast. My wife also came from an intact family. But times were changing. Our kids had plenty of friends who were from broken homes.

We put off divorce knowing logically that it was bad for our kids, but we didn’t know we could fix our marriage. My discoveries about marriage came later. There wasn’t even an internet.

The pain my wife and I caused each other was excruciating. We tried “everything”. Everything that was available to us including at least a dozen of the “best” therapists, over a period of ten years; both together and individually.

The last therapist we saw together provided the final straw. She told us to go home and tell each other what we didn’t like about each other using “I-statements”. My wife insisted that I go first. I did. Then she walked out of the room, and that was the end of our marriage.

So, I, not my wife, rationalized that the kids would be fine in “happier” surroundings after a divorce. I bought the BS sold by the divorce industry.

Our three kids got pummeled. We saw it. But with the “help” from individual therapists, whose advice I now know is destructive to marriages, I blamed my wife and she blamed me. That pummeled our kids even more. Children trust their parents, and we were telling our kids that the other parent was bad news. Not always overtly, but we both definitely let them know “our” side. It affected them devastatingly.

One of our kids had a genius-level I.Q. She was always a well-balanced, rising star student. Even though she was enrolled in a premier school, during our pre-divorce phase she got into drugs and alcohol to the point where we had to send her to a wilderness program in Utah. She never fully recovered. There is no denying how our fighting strained her so badly that she lost the qualities that set her above and apart as a child. Now, years later, her life is good. She adapted. But it is not the life she could have had. If only we had known.

Our second child was a handful from the moment he was born, talk about a kid who needed a family. He was the poster child representing the kids you better not take your eyes off for a minute. One set of eyes was not enough for him. Any distraction from constant vigil meant he would get into trouble. He needed us. He needed us together and as a team. He needed us and we let him down. We chose to fight and then divorce instead of enduring our bad marriage. There were no programs like mine back then, but we could have stuck it out, had we known.

As a young adult, he was an amazing person. Loving, generous, loved by all and would have had more positive opportunities than most children because of who he was. But finding the drug escape brought his young life to an abrupt end.

Our third did better, mostly because I started to see how my kids were falling off cliffs and I made “saving him” my life’s mission. Now he even helps from time to time with The Marriage Foundation. But we all know he would have done better had his mother and I stayed together. Our efforts were not nearly enough. If only I had the information that I’m giving you now, I would have reconciled with my wife. But I had no idea. She had no idea either.

There is no hiding from the truth. My wife and I would both rather burn in hell than cause what we did to our children. We just didn’t know.

How To Get Out Of The Divorce Funnel Completely

After my experience dragging my family through the court system, I became a divorce mediator so I could help others through the process more easily. I thought the divorce process was the culprit and I wanted to save people from the stress of a contested divorce. But God guided me to do something quite different. He set up a chain of events that opened my eyes and set me on the path of marriage study and healing.

While a mediator, I routinely asked couples, “Why are you getting a divorce?” One day a young couple cried and said, “We don’t know what else to do.” Without thinking I told them that if they wanted, I would try to help them save their marriage. They agreed and I got to work. I started with questions that would help establish goals and a pathway to achieve them. These are the questions I asked myself:

Why do people get married?

Not, “Why did you marry your spouse?” but why do we get married, at all?

I was floored because I had never asked myself this question. The answer is we all want to be happy, and the follow-up answer is that we need unconditional love to be happy.

What is marriage?

Try looking it up. You will find only surface definitions that don’t tell you anything you need to know. This may not answerable in a sentence, but you could define marriage by its purpose; to learn to love unconditionally. Maybe that’s confusing, but it is 100% universally accurate.

The purpose of marriage should guide all your actions, but nobody knows so nobody does, and so marriages fail left and right.

What should we get out of marriage?

This goes back to why we get married. To be happy, but because nobody has a clear idea of their expectations, they do stupid things that work against their own and their family’s happiness! They make themselves and their spouse miserable.

How do we stupidly ruin the greatest opportunity for happiness that most of us will ever have?

Whatever endeavor you choose, you need the guardrails of do’s and don’ts. Yet most people start undermining their marriage even before the ceremony. How many couples are already fighting over silly aspects of the wedding party?

I began trying out my ideas about marriages on willing friends, clients, and strangers. My early efforts came together and finally, I broke the code! I had the solutions my first couple needed and it worked. They stopped being my divorce clients and happily stayed together, and still are.

I stopped my divorce mediation practice altogether and began only helping couples rebuild their marriages. I had couples coming to see me from all over southern California; from the rich and famous to the poor and desperate. Even the county referred social worker cases to me.

My mission was simple: test everything. Gradually I refined, systematized, and documented my process.

I was invited to speak at the Second Saturday Divorce Seminars to women who had decided to get a divorce. Many of them changed their minds when they heard what I had to say, and by working through my system, they recovered their marriages.

Next, I formed The Marriage Foundation as a non-profit organization, wrote a couple of books, and built an online course to help people all over the world.

In my course, I walk individuals step-by-step through the same process I used with clients in my private practice. It has proven to work in the real world with thousands of clients. It will work for you too. And I can unequivocally say that the effort required to fix your marriage is a drop in the bucket compared to the suffering, time, effort, cost, and impact on your children if you go through with your divorce.

The downward spiral to divorce is not inevitable. You can get out of it. But it’s up to you.

I strongly encourage you to watch this video (Youtube 42min) where I discuss my system. Then sign up for the free trial of my 12 week marriage saving program and see for yourself how the principles I discovered will help your marriage.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our counselors. We are all here to help you.

Love and Blessings to you and your family.



The Effects Of Divorce On Children
Paul Friedman
Paul Friedman
Paul has written two books, produced several video programs, regularly speaks on marriage, and continues to guide the growth of The Marriage Foundation to help enrich the marriages of couples around the world.

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