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The surprising science about divorce’s effect on children

This article looks at studies investigating the short- and long-term effects of divorce on children.

Most people, even those who choose to get divorced, tend to assume that the breakup of a marriage has a negative impact on children. However, while it is a widely held and understandable belief that divorce is bad for children, studies that have actually looked at the impact of divorce on children have come to more nuanced and often surprising conclusions. While divorce is certainly painful for children in the short-term, many factors, including child custody arrangements and the involvement of each parent in the child's life after the divorce, can have a big impact on how well children cope and develop.

Children are resilient

It will come as a surprise to few people that the immediate aftermath of a divorce is extremely painful for children. Indeed, most children will exhibit negative effects right after a divorce is announced, including anxiety, anger, and disbelief.

However, as Scientific American points out, numerous studies have found that such negative effects dissipate as children grow older. Studies have shown that there is only a negligible difference in how well adolescents and teenagers perform academically, socially, behaviorally, and psychologically whose parents divorced when they were young compared to those whose parents remained married. Only a small minority of children have long-term problems due to divorce.

The role of parental conflict

Somewhat ironically, children tended to adjust worse to a divorce if there was less rather than more conflict between parents during the marriage. That is because when marital conflict is less obvious, the announcement of a divorce can seem extremely sudden. Indeed, if there is a lot of marital conflict, the divorce can come as a relief to some children.

That research aligns with other studies that have shown that conflict between parents after a divorce likewise has a negligible impact on a child's wellbeing and development. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, a number of studies have found that shared custody arrangements tend to lead to better behavioral and emotional outcomes for children of divorce. However, the reason shared parenting is better is not because the parents necessarily get along with each other, but that the child is able to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents. Essentially, what matters more for children is not so much that their parents like each other, but that each parent shows that they love and are still an important part of the children's lives.

Help with child-related issues

No two families are alike, which is why anybody going through a divorce will want the assistance of a family law attorney who is sensitive to their client's unique needs and concerns. An experienced attorney can assist clients with various aspects related to a divorce, including how to deal with the complex and often fraught discussions surrounding child custody and support.

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