By Michael Misja, Ph.D.


Most people struggling with whether or not to stay in a marriage wonder how a divorce will affect their children.  They ask if their kids will be better or worse off if they decide to divorce. Many come to the conclusion that their sons and daughters will be fine if their parents’ marriage ends. Their reasoning goes like this:


-I don’t want to teach my children that it’s ok for their mother/father to treat me poorly.

-If they are hurt, they are resilient and will quickly get past their pain.

-My kids have a good support system.  Besides, we’ll still be a family. We just won’t live together.

-Half of the kids in the school have divorced parents and they are doing just fine.

-My parents divorced and I did ok. God will help them like He has helped me.

-I know my kids want me to be happy.


And, sadly, some people who plan to divorce never really think about how the divorce will change the lives of their children.


While it is true that some children do well after divorce, the majority have long term negative effects. I recently gave a talk to a team of youth workers.  They told me the majority of the kids they worked with were children of divorce.  Most of the children were left on their own to figure why their parents divorced, what their future would be, and who the new person was in their mom or dad’s life. Their parents just assumed they would be ok.  I looked at various studies and found that both old and new research indicated children in intact families fared much better than children whose families were broken through divorce. You can see some of those findings at the end of this blog.


I’m not sure there is ever a good time to divorce in order to minimize the harm to a child. Every age group, young children, teens, and adults are affected in different ways by their parents’ divorce.


For example, a teen is likely to experience intense betrayal resulting in disillusionment. More than ever before, they feel like they are unprotected and on their own.  They may feel they have lost their childhood and have to be their own adult or an adult for a sibling. Think of some of the questions teens ask when their parents’ divorce:


Who is the good guy and who is the bad guy?

Who do I trust?  What happened to the parents I knew (and trusted)?

Why did it happen?  Why couldn’t they work it out?

Are my parents still Christians if they got divorced? Why didn’t God stop it?

What did I do wrong? How can I get them back together?

What if I have to go to court? What will happen after the divorce?

What if my parents talk bad about each other? Will they get remarried?

Do I have to (pass messages) between mom and dad?

What do I do if Dad says, “Now don’t tell your mother this, but…”?

What should I tell my friends?

Is it ok to be this angry?


Licensed counselor and therapist Steven Earll wrote regarding younger children:

“Children (and adult children) have the attitude that their parents should be able to work through and solve any issue. Parents, who have given the children life, are perceived by the children as very competent people with supernatural abilities to meet the needs of the children. No problem should be too great for their parents to handle. For a child, divorce shatters this basic safety and belief concerning the parents’ abilities to care for them and to make decisions that truly consider their well-being.


Children have the strong belief that there is only one right family relationship, and that is Mom and Dad being together. Any other relationship configuration presents a conflict or betrayal of their basic understanding of life. In divorce, children [tend to] resent both the custodial and absent parent.”


As my brother, Chuck, and I wrote in “Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage,” I understand that some situations are so painful that divorce may be the only possible resolve.  I also know that God taught that divorce is acceptable in a few, specific situations.  But the best hope for your children is to learn to work through difficulties, forgive, encourage, and thrive in your marriage.


What if you are already divorced?  Are your kids doomed?

Not at all.  There is much you can do to help your children, even if a divorce has occurred.  But you really need to stay tuned to their basic needs.

Stability-provide them with as stable an environment as possible.  Do not move new romantic interests in and out of your children’s lives.

Security-It is critical that both parents be as positively involved with their children after a divorce.  They must be secure in both parents love with assurance they have not lost either parent.

Positive view of other parent-Even if the divorce was hostile and remains messy, it is important that you represent your ex in as positive a light as possible.  Don’t cover up their negative behavior, if it exists, but don’t neglect to highlight their virtues.

Give your children one parent they can trust-you!-Kids get caught in the turmoil of a divorce.  They wonder who they can trust with the truth.  Dedicate yourself to being the parent they can rely on to guide them after the divorce.

Watch-Keep your eyes on your child and monitor how they are doing.  Get them help when you see warning signs.  Make sure they aren’t lost in the turmoil of a divorce.

Trust-Let them know that God cares and, though He may not bring mom and dad back together, He will stay intimately involved in the entire family’s lives.  They can turn to Him and trust him with their future.



Psychologist Judith Wallerstein followed a group of children of divorce from the 1970s into the 1990s. Interviewing them at 18 months and then 5, 10, 15 and 25 years after the divorce, she expected to find that they had bounced back. But what she found was dismaying: Even 25 years after the divorce, these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change and fear of conflict. Twenty-five years!


The children in Wallerstein’s study were especially challenged when they began to form their own romantic relationships. As Wallerstein explains, “Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage . . . Anxiety leads many [adult children of divorce] into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether.”


Citing Wallerstein’s research Focus on the Family reported:

  • Children from divorced homes suffer academically. They experience high levels of behavioral problems. Their grades suffer, and they are less likely to graduate from high school.
  • Kids whose parents divorce are substantially more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile.
  • Because the custodial parent’s income drops substantially after a divorce, children in divorced homes are almost five times more likely to live in poverty than are children with married parents.
  • Teens from divorced homes are much more likely to engage in drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual intercourse than are those from intact families.
  • Children from divorced homes experience illness more frequently and recover from sickness more slowly. They are also more likely to suffer child abuse.
  • Children of divorced parents suffer more frequently from symptoms of psychological distress. And the emotional scars of divorce last into adulthood.



Lauren Hansen published an article in 2013 called “Nine negative effects divorce reportedly has on children,” saying divorce can be the first in a string of dominos that knock a kid down — and keep him there. Here are the harmful effects she found:


1. Smoking habits
Men whose parents divorced before they turned 18 had 48 percent higher odds of smoking than men with intact families. Women had 39 percent higher odds of picking up the habit.


2. Ritalin use
5,000 children who did not use Ritalin, and were living in two-parent households, were interviewed. Over the six years, 13.2 percent of those kids experienced divorce. Of those children, 6.6 percent used Ritalin. Of the children living in intact households, 3.3 percent used Ritalin. Strohschein suggests that stress from the divorce could have altered the children’s mental health, and caused a dependence on Ritalin.


3. Poor math and social skills
A 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children of divorced parents often fall behind their classmates in math and social skills, and are more likely to suffer anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem.


4. Susceptibility to sickness
In 1990, Jane Mauldon of the University of California at Berkeley found that children of divorce run a 35 percent risk of developing health problems, compared with a 26 percent risk among all children.


5. An increased likelihood of dropping out of school
A 2010 study found that more than 78 percent of children in two-parent households graduated from high school by the age of 20. However, only 60 percent of those who went through a big family change — including divorce, death, or remarriage — graduated in the same amount of time. The younger a child is during the divorce, the more he or she may be affected. Also, the more change children are forced to go through, like a divorce followed by a remarriage, the more difficulty they may have finishing school.


6. A propensity for crime
The outcome was one in 10 turned to crime, and 8 percent considered suicide.


7. Higher risk of stroke
In 2010, researchers from the University of Toronto found a strong link between divorce and adult risk of stroke.


8. Greater chance of getting divorced
Nicholas H. Wolfinger in 2005 released a study showing that children of divorce are more likely to divorce as adults.


9. An early death

Children of divorced families who died on average almost five years earlier than children whose parents did not divorce. The deaths were from causes both natural and unnatural, but men were more likely to die of accidents or violence. Generally, divorce lowered the standard of living for the children, which made a particular difference in the life longevity of women.


  1. michael misja says:

    Frida sent me a link to a helpful article on pare ts, children, and divorce. Take a look.
    Michael Misja


  2. Mike, I appreciate your honesty and strength in addressing a very difficult subject. I too hear parents regularly rationalizing their decision to divorce. When we “want what we want” we can always find a reason. Our hearts are “deceitful above all things!” We need others to help us understand our hidden motivations.
    I rarely find people open to a different perspective when they’ve made up their minds. But we can continue to love and respect people’s decision to choose, even when they make destructive choices. Thanks again for speaking out on a much needed subject. Mark

    • I want to commend you on your great rerocsue for parents and kids going through divorce. Divorce is a very difficult process to go through for everyone involved. As your website points out, helping children through a divorce is the most important aspect. Your kids will need help to get through this stage and onto the rest of their lives. Thanks for your great rerocsue.

  3. Carolyn Rodecker, LPCC says:

    Mike, thanks for presenting this truth. What is also true is that families who choose to stay married and do not get help to work through difficult issues are at risk for suffering through similar if not identical problems with the same results. Another group that is often unprepared and vulnerable to these outcomes are those who experience the loss of a spouse/parent through death.
    The common bond is separation of the family unit.
    Thanks for the blog!

  4. This is an article which should be read and seriously be reflected upon by parents considering divorce. The child really has no say over what occurs and this increases his risk of feeling powerless then and later in life. This is not the time to think of your own selfish wants and needs. By working a little harder and a little longer, a mom and dad can not only learn to love again but experience God’s love in a way they never thought they could. There’ a reason God hates divorce, and you touched on many of them. Thanks for your wisdom.

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