Impact of Divorce on Kids



Some think that the forty-year rise in the divorce rate was a terrible thing.  I say “was” because that rise now seems to have leveled off at just under fifty-percent.  Maybe it’s not so terrible that people can now do what they want to do, even change their minds, that women can support themselves and their children or that spouses can choose not to live with abuse, infidelity or emotional isolation.  It’s the damage to kids and to society that people worry about.

But wait.  We shouldn’t assume too much, even when it appears logical and intuitive that children would be permanently scarred by the losses and uncertainties involved in their parents’ decision to split.  The truth is often more complicated, especially when the subject is human.

And the way we arrive at the truth is through careful, scientific study, not biased conjecture.  This is what we’re offered by E. Mavis Heatherington of the University of Virginia in For Better or for Worse (W.W. Norton).  Heatherington, one of our leading scholars of divorce, followed 2500 children of divorce from 1400 families over the past thirty years.

Twenty percent of children of divorce are troubled, compared with ten percent of those in intact families.  They also face a higher risk of getting divorced, themselves.  Some people never do recover from their divorces—but these are mostly men, not women, not children.  In fact, some adults and children, especially women and girls, actually do better after a divorce than they did before.  They may grow and become competent in ways they never would have before the break-up.

Of the twenty percent who didn’t thrive, Heatherington found that many of their problems predated the divorce.  Living in an unhappy family is just as dangerous for kids as breaking it up.





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