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The Divorce Controversy – What We Know

Here's what we do know. Virtually all the experts agree.


Most kids suffer emotionally in divorce. No one who has seen a child go through a divorce will be surprised by this. As families pull apart, the world of the children is split into two camps. The things that constitute their basic pillars of permanence—where they eat and sleep, how they spend their time, where they keep their stuff, where they go to school, who their friends are—any or all of these things may change dramatically. To say nothing of the upheavals at home as the family unit disintegrates. Children of divorce suffer fears of abandonment, hope of reconciliation, uncertainty and anxiety about the future, concern for the happiness of their parents, embarrassment, fear of rejection in their own relationships and other emotions of distress.

While there is little doubt that children suffer in divorce—and your child will most likely suffer too—this does not mean that most children are damaged by divorce.Many, if not most, kids come through the divorce without major damage. This does not mean their lives are not changed by divorce, or that they come through entirely unscathed. But children CAN escape severe emotional damage, and there is even very good evidence that some kids gain a level of resourcefulness, social self-confidence, self-reliance and emotional resilience through the process of divorce.

Divorce increases the risk for psychological and behavioral problems.The best available research shows that children of divorce are more likely—possibly twice as likely - to find themselves visiting a mental health professional. Two other indicators of psychological problems, rate of teen pregnancy and dropping out of school, likewise, have been shown to be about twice as high for single parent families. Behavioral problems, too, are more frequent in single-parent families. Most notably, boys are more aggressive and have more conduct problems when raised by a single parent.

While research points to higher rates of psychological and behavioral problems, it is important to consider the whole statistical picture: many, if not most, children of divorce do not have serious psychological, behavioral or emotional problems. The damage that happens to kids in divorce stems from a few identifiable causes. Causes that may, in fact, exist in divorced families or intact families. More importantly, the damage of divorce is done almost entirely by factors that can be mitigated or even prevented during divorce. They are:

  1. Ongoing conflict between parents.
  2. The loss of a parent through abandonment, moving away, or custody agreement.
  3. Loss of economic status.

Two of these factors are entirely within the parent's power to control or eliminate. Even the third, loss of economic status, though often unavoidable, is still largely within the power of the parents to mitigate.

Parents often fail to address these causes for one simple reason: the process of divorce, as it is currently structured, works to exacerbate each of these problems rather than remedy them. For more on this, read about Why Mediation is Good for Kids.



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