How Divorce Can Affect Children

Posted on August 29, 2022 by Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth is a passionate family lawyer based in Sydney. During Sophie’s time in family law, she has been able to gain valuable skills in drafting documents for Court, connecting with clients, and conducting legal research for matters before the Federal Circuit Court, Family Court and Supreme Court of New South Wales. This experience has allowed Sophie to create close relationships with clients, understanding that every family law issue is complex and presents a unique set of circumstances.

When any relationship ends it can be a difficult time – especially if children are involved. Every family member will be undergoing many changes and will need to learn how to adjust to their new way of life.

Children can be impacted by their parents splitting up in a variety of different ways. Some children may react to the breakup in an understanding way, while others may struggle with the transition to their “new normal”.

For some couples, the fear of how a divorce or separation may impact their children can lead to them staying together for the “sake of their kids”. However, while divorce can be upsetting and hard for children to accept, for some families, it can also be the best option for them. Divorce and separation not only have an impact on the wellbeing of children, but so to does living in a home where their parents are arguing and conflict is present.

Whether you’re currently navigating your way through a separation or divorce or it’s something you and your partner have discussed, the effects it may have on your children are most likely at the front of mind.

As every child and every family circumstance is different, the way divorce can affect children can vary significantly. To help, we’ve put together some information regarding how divorce can change a child’s life, as well as the effects these changes might have, and the steps you can take to make these changes easier for your children.

What changes in a child’s life when their parent’s split up?

When a child’s parents separate or get divorced, it can leave them experiencing a feeling of loss. This is not surprising given the multitude of changes they will experience.

A child’s life changes quite significantly – they may experience even more change than the parents.

New living arrangements: this might involve one parent moving out of the family home. It could involve both parents needing to move to smaller or different areas. In many instances, it will involve the child having two different homes.

Possibly spending less time with one parent: A common parenting arrangement for some families is for a child to spend more time living with one parent than the other, largely due to convenience. This can impact the relationship of the child with the parent they are spending less time with.

Change in education: Depending on living arrangements and parenting plans, your kid/s may need to change schools.

Ability to do after-school activities and/or spend time with friends: Factoring in time for your kids to be able to spend time with each parent can then impact other activities or relationships in their lives.

These changes, combined with the loss of the security they may have once felt from being part of their family unit, can cause children to feel angry, upset and hurt – especially early on in the separation or divorce process.

For some children, it’s these changes to their lives that can be more difficult to deal with than the actual fact that their parents are separating.

How do children tend to react to the news of a divorce or separation?

It is not uncommon for children to struggle with their feelings and their behaviours when their parents separate or when they first learn of their parents plans to separate.

Many different factors, like their age and development stage, the family dynamics, quality of parenting, and degree of hostility in the home, can affect the way a child reacts to the split of their parents.

When kids are young, particularly around pre-school to early primary school ages, they do not usually understand the notion of divorce and find it difficult to accept that they may need to go between two different homes. Kids this age may also worry that their parents may stop loving them or feel at fault for their parents no longer being together.

Slightly older children, who may be in the higher years of primary school or early high school might have fears of abandonment, especially if they didn’t notice too much conflict between their parents. It’s also not uncommon for kids this age to want to repair their parents’ relationship, or even want to blame someone for the split – with resentment being projected towards the parents or one of the parents.

The way a teenager reacts can also vary significantly, from being accepting to feelings of extreme anger. This anger may be directed towards one parent, both parents, and may manifest into poor behaviours.

Unfortunately, there is no one answer to how a child will take the news of their parents separating.

Common issues your child may experience

For many children, the first year after the initial separation of their parents is the most difficult for them. This isn’t surprising given that this is when most of the changes to their family structure and routines will occur. The first year will involve an adjustment period, which may cause them to misbehave or experience some issues.

Some of the changes you might notice in your children include:

  • Mental health struggles
    child’s mental health may be impacted by a separation or divorce, or the conflict that surrounds the situation. The exposure to hostility and instability could lead to feelings of anxiety, while the many different changes they undergo, especially in the initial stages of the separation could lead to other mental health problems such as depression.This doesn’t mean that every child whose parents separate will develop mental health problems, as there are many factors that can impact this. Some children who may experience mental health concerns may only experience them temporarily too.
  • Behavioural problems
    Children may experience all kinds of external behavioural problems in the wake of a separation or split. These could include aggressiveness, delinquency, or even result in risk taking behaviours, such as substance use.Other behavioural issues might include them regressing to behaviours they had previously outgrown, like wetting themselves even though they are toilet trained or sucking their thumbs. This is often a coping mechanism where the child returns to using a behaviour that they associate with a time that they felt more secure.
  • Changes in academic performance
    When a child is experiencing significant changes, especially those that are quite emotional, they can become distracted and find it difficult to concentrate at school. While their academic performance may suffer, this can also be temporary and not a long-term issue.While your child could experience all or some of these issues and behaviours, children can be a lot more resilient and with the right nurturing and assistance, they can overcome the negative experiences they may have.

How parents can help children cope with divorce

There’s no doubt that separation and/or divorce is stressful for everyone involved. Fortunately, parents can play a major role in the adjustment to divorce or separation, and there are a number of things that you can do to help them through this transition period.

Co-operative co-parenting

Co-parenting is not a walk in the park – even if you’re on great terms with your former spouse. If you and your former partner have decided to co-parent and make decisions about your child’s future together, then it’s likely that you both want to prioritise the wellbeing of your child, so aim to keep this in front of mind.

Co-parenting involves both parents playing an active role in their kid’s lives and gives the child/ren the chance to maintain a healthy relationship with one another. It also involves providing consistent environments for the kid/s and respecting one another – even when you might find that difficult to do.

Being able to effectively co-parent your child can be extremely beneficial for them in the long run and can make the divorce transition significantly easier for them. Learn more about effective co-parenting here.

Maintain a healthy relationship with your child

A separation or divorce is an emotionally stressful time for both you and your child/ren, so it can be easy to overlook the actual relationship you have with your child and instead focus on what you need to do for your child.

You can help to develop and keep your relationship with your child healthy by providing them with a safe environment, and one where they know they can communicate with you and be honest with you. It’s also important to encourage them to talk and spend time to their other parent (if it is in the child’s best interest). One way you could do this is by scheduling a phone call with their parent while they are at your home.

Don’t keep them in the dark

It’s only natural for parents to want to protect their children from any hostility or conflict, and while the less exposure to this is certainly better for children, it can lead parents to completely leave their children in the dark about what is actually happening.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies conducted a survey in 2018, where children were asked a number of questions in relation to their experiences and needs when their parents separated. Some notable outcomes of the survey included that children wanted to be given more information about the divorce process and that they felt left out of the big decisions that were being made about their lives.

The children who answered the survey were between the ages of 10-17 and their parents had already separated.

While you may want to shield your child from the nitty gritty details, it may be a good idea to give them the opportunity to ask questions, so you can see how much they are wanting to know and be involved.

Do not put your kids in the middle

When we say don’t put your kids in the middle, we mean it in a couple of ways. Avoid exposing them to conflict or making them feel like they are in a position where they need to make a decision between the parents. It can be highly damaging to their relationship with both parents.

In addition to keeping them out of arguments and conflict, do not use them as a messenger or go-between with their other parent. If you need to communicate with the other parent, it’s best to do so yourself. This can place excessive pressure on your child.

Educate and take care of yourself

Divorce is complicated and so different for everyone, so take the time to educate yourself about what may be involved, the decisions you need to make, and the various ways you can be supported. You could do this by talking to a divorce lawyer who can give you an idea of what you need to think about.

It’s also important to make sure you take care of yourself. This includes eating well, ensuring you’re sleeping enough, but also seeking support when you need it. There are many different resources both online and in local communities where you can find information and solace. This can be a highly isolating time for you too.

Your wellbeing will also have a direct impact on the wellbeing of your child, so it’s important to take care of yourself.

How a family lawyer can help to reduce the impact of divorce on a child

Working with a family lawyer with experience in divorce and parenting matters can be another way that you may be able to reduce the effects divorce or separation may have on your child.

We’ve discussed many of the changes that a child may experience and how this can affect them. Along with these changes is also the increased chances of conflict occurring – and this is where a family lawyer can really step in to help.

A family lawyer is able to help guide you and your family through the family law system, to ensure that you’re fulfilling your legal responsibilities and requirements, and also making the best decisions for your situation.

A divorce or separation involves many decisions and changes being made, and this can often occur in a very short time frame, making it highly complex to understand and work your way through.

By working with a family lawyer, you can:

  • Understand what you can and can’t do legally. If you’ve never been through a separation or divorce, or one that involves kids, it’s likely you may not know your obligations and your rights. A family lawyer can learn about your circumstances, provide you with information from a legal standpoint, and also ensure that you actually understand what you need to know. It’s not easy to make decisions if you’re not informed of all your options and a family lawyer is the best person to provide you with this information.
  • Develop parenting arrangements. A parenting arrangement can provide structure for your child and both parents as it will outline how a child will live after the separation/divorce. The parenting plan should be made with the best interests of the child as the most important consideration, and an experienced family lawyer can advise you of the various options available to you and your former partner. 

    A fair parenting plan can also help to reduce the likelihood of future conflict.

  • Make the divorce process more efficient. It can be difficult to know or understand everything that must be done to complete the divorce process. In addition to the many decisions that need to be made, there are timelines that need to be followed and various kinds of paperwork that needs to be filed. 

    A family lawyer experienced in divorce matters can make this process a lot simpler, which can reduce your stress too.

  • Resolve conflict faster. Not all conflict is avoidable, even when you’re trying to do what’s best for your children. By working with a family lawyer, they can negotiate and represent you throughout various matters that may arise during your divorce and/or parenting matters.Family lawyers can also help you to avoid potential conflict by shedding light on issues that you may be unaware of or by providing you with different ways you can approach your circumstances.

    A family lawyer’s skills and techniques are invaluable when you’re going through a divorce or separation.

Do you need a family lawyer?

Unified Lawyers is a family law firm that focuses on putting you and your family first. We do this by simplifying the legal process as much as possible, understanding the unique needs of each of our clients, and ensuring that you’re informed of all of your options.

We know that a separation, divorce or any parenting matters can be highly emotional and stressful, making them even more difficult to navigate. With our support, you can be understood, represented and supported throughout your family law matter.

Discuss your situation with one of our friendly family lawyers during a free consultation.

Sophie Booth Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth - Family Lawyer

Sophie Booth is a passionate family lawyer based in Sydney. During Sophie’s time in family law, she has been able to gain valuable skills in drafting documents for Court, connecting with clients, and conducting legal research for matters before the Federal Circuit Court, Family Court and Supreme Court of New South Wales. This experience has allowed Sophie to create close relationships with clients, understanding that every family law issue is complex and presents a unique set of circumstances.

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