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Things to Know Before You Divorce: How Divorce Affects Children

Marriage isn't easy, as anyone who's ever checked out divorce statistics – or been married – can attest. But when you promised “till death do us part,” you didn't mean “till inconvenience do us part.” Divorce has real consequences, and children can suffer immensely when their parents divorce. Often, the worst effects linger for years or even decades after the divorce. Unless you're being abused and until you've given your marriage every chance you can – including extensive and intensive therapy – it's time to critically evaluate the myriad ways divorce can harm your children. A near-avalanche of studies has shown that divorce carries, at minimum, the following costs for children:

  • Children of divorce are more likely to get divorced as adults.
  • Children whose parents divorced are more likely to smoke, drink, and abuse drugs.
  • Divorce increases the odds that a child will drop out of high school, lowers the probability that a child will attend college, and greatly affects children's ability to learn and get good grades.
  • Children of divorce have worse social skills than children whose parents stay together. Given that social support can help children weather the storm of divorce, this statistic is particularly startling.
  • Divorce affects children's ability to learn math. Unlike some other subjects, such as social studies, learning in math is cumulative. This means that, if your child doesn't do well in second-grade math, he'll probably continue to do poorly in third grade without additional help.
  • Children of divorce are almost twice as likely to develop health problems. Especially noteworthy is the fact that children whose parents divorced experience an elevated risk of stroke and heart attack for the rest of their lives.
  • Divorce greatly increases a child's vulnerability to depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • One in 10 children of divorce engage in criminal behavior.
  • One in eight children of divorce contemplate suicide.
  • Children whose parents divorce face a permanently disrupted childhood. They're forced to deal with custody fights, one parent badmouthing the other, and endlessly shuffling back and forth between their parents' homes. They may have to deal with different rules and friends at each house, in addition to feeling obligated to mediate parental disputes.
  • Children whose parents divorce die, on average, five years earlier than children whose parents opted to stay together; it may be that the cumulative effects of stress increase the likelihood of developing deadly health problems late in life.
  • Children of divorce are more likely to engage in aggressive and angry behavior. Boys whose parents divorce are more likely to abuse their partners and their children.
  • Divorce teaches children that problems cannot be solved, which makes dealing with a host of challenges feel more daunting and more overwhelming to these kids.
  • Children of divorce are more likely to develop self-esteem issues. These issues can, in turn, give way to serious health problems, such as self-mutilation and eating disorders.

With this being the case, it is worth being sure that you thoroughly evaluate whether you move forward with a divorce when you have children.  Although there is a time and a place for divorce, as long as there is not physical or emotional abuse it is always worth taking the time to meet with a marriage counselor before calling it quits.  For more information about how to avoid divorce, see