What will the long-term impact of divorce be on my child?

When you are considering getting a divorce, you want to know what the impact of this decision will be on your children. As a parent, this will be one of the most challenging decisions to make. My guess is that you are existing in an unhealthy marriage, and you want out; and yet are wanting to protect your children from the negative effects of divorce. It’s a difficult decision for a parent to make, especially at time when you are in a place of pain. Here are the important things to consider as you decide what to do, about how badly your child will be impacted by your divorce.

There are researchers and authors who have presented arguments for each side: the perspective that children are damaged by divorce, and the other perspective that children are resilient and won’t have long term difficulties after divorce. Having read a lot of their work, I have come to value the words of Emery who said: Well the truth lies in the middle.


Here are three things to consider that impact how your children will adjust to your divorce:

1. Consider the beginning:

For most children, the first two years will be difficult. There is much to grieve and there are transitions to move through. Long-term, research shows that with good support, 80% of children of divorce have no bigger psychological problems than other children. You can help your children to get through this difficult initial grieving phase.

2. Risk and protective factors:

There are things you can do that will make the adjustment more stressful, and other things that will protect your child from distress. The protective factors include your child having strong relationships with others and particularly with positive adult models. Providing a stable home environment with structure is another protective factor, along with being able to give your child a realistic explanation for the reason for the divorce. You can teach your child good coping skills, but you need to be doing ok emotionally, in order to do so. The risk factors in divorce include children blaming themselves for the divorce, ongoing high-conflict between parents, and when children find themselves in the middle of fighting parents. Other risk factors include parents not being emotionally available to children, and when there is instability in the environment.

3. Resources:

Sometimes it’s hard to sift through all the information out there in a time when you are in crisis. There are so many resources available, varying from support groups for adults and children, to informational sessions hosted in the community, to books for adults, parents and kids. Visit some of these support groups, so that you can hear how other parents are coping.

Making the decision to get divorced is very difficult, but whether or not your child will be able to adjust, is not the question. We know that children are resilient with the right kind of support. So, if you are going to go ahead with this, consider getting support so that you can be a resource to your child, to help them adjust in healthy ways.

There is no easy answer, instead one can only trust that the process of grieving and of guidance seeking, will bring clarity. Consider waiting until you are sure, to share the news with your child, otherwise they will be suspended in transition alongside you, for a long time, without answers.

If you are not aware of the resources in San Diego, or feel you need extra support in making this decision, or explaining it to your children, give me a call and I’d be happy to help.