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What is the impact on children?

Children are impacted in different ways by divorce, separation, or custody changes. The impacts depend on:

  • Internal factors such as age, gender, and temperament.

  • External factors like level of parental conflict, number of transitions during the process, and newly assumed or increased economic hardship.

Some impacts will be negative and some will be positive. How children cope with family transitions over time depends on the unique balance of risk and protective factors they experience.

It's important for programs like Parents Forever to:

  • Understand why some children are at greater risk for negative outcomes than others.

  • Creates a map of what areas are important to target in programming.

Following are some examples of research findings on the impact of divorce on children.

Divorce may negatively impact some children

Type of study: A meta-analysis of 67 studies conducted in the 1990s (Amato, 2001)

Results: Compared to children without divorced parents, children with divorced parents:

  • Scored poorly on academic measures.

  • Experienced psychological and behavioral problems.

  • Experienced problems in their social relationships.

Divorce impacts some children differently based on gender and timing

Type of study: Followed a group of children over time from kindergarten to the end of 9th grade (n=356; Malone et al., 2004)

Results: Divorce was not related to girls’ externalizing behaviors, but it was related to externalizing behaviors for boys. Results depended on timing.

  • If the divorce occurred during elementary school, boys showed a greater long-term impact on their behavior.

  • If the divorce occurred during middle school, boys’ behavior worsened for the year afterward. It then improved to a level that was better than before the divorce.

Divorce can be both a risk and a protective factor

Type of study: Sample of maltreated children (n=250; Dare & Mallett, 2009)
Results: Divorce was a protective factor. This made the probability of delinquency in adolescence significantly less likely.

Emily Becher, research associate

Reviewed in 2022

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