The [Real] Effects of Divorce on Children

How does divorce impact children caught in the middle? Johns Hopkins University sociologist, Andrew J. Cherlin, explores this pivotal question and other related issues in his fascinating book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and Family in America Today.

Cherlin’s book features many counterintuitive research findings about family relationships in the United States and the diverse affects of divorce. By examining U.S. culture — which values marriage highly but which also witnesses a shockingly high percentage of marriages end in divorce — in the light of other cultures around the globe, Cherlin illuminates how marriage and divorce change the nature of the family and impact well being over the long term.

How Children Experience Divorce: The Conventional Wisdom vs. the New Wisdom

The conventional wisdom about how divorce impacts kids is simple: separation harms them, at least in the short term. This makes intuitive sense. When a family breaks up, routines fall apart, feelings get hurt, and otherwise supportive parents fight and ignore the needs of the children. Many parents, therefore, feel compelled to “fix” their families and somehow make them intact again, as soon as possible. To that end, some parents seek to “repartner” quickly, so that children can look to new father figures (or mother figures).

This approach sounds reasonable. But it may be harmful to a child’s well-being.

Cherlin cites studies and other evidence that suggest that rushed re-partnering is ill advised. The “churn” of new relationships in and out of the lives of children causes more harm than it prevents. Families, Cherlin observes, need stability to thrive. When you look closely at the data, the marital status of parents is less relevant to the well being of children than the length of time a couple stays together or the number of new partners brought into the home.

Easing the Divorce Process for Children

For married couples with children, divorce often represents the best choice for the sake of the family. However, this doesn’t mean it will be easy for children. By maintaining a patient and positive demeanor, speaking neutrally about family members, and seeking counseling and other forms of support, you can help ease the transition.

When you’re caring for children during a divorce, navigating the turbulent legal waters can become overwhelming.

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