How Children are Affected by Divorce: A Year-by-Year Guide

How Children are Affected by Divorce: A Year-by-Year Guide

A divorce can be stressful for a couple, but the parents often forget that such an event can be devastating for children, as well. It can be hard to tell the children that their mother and father will be separating and no longer living in the same house. The family is splitting up and the children will now be shuttled back and forth between two residences instead of one.

No matter your children’s ages, they will be impacted by the divorce in some way. Even babies and toddlers can sense tension, and while they may not understand the source of the tension, it can make them irritable and clingy. The ways in which your children will react to a divorce will differ from age to age. Emotions tend to get more out of control as a child gets older, with teens lashing out against their parents and often engaging in risky behavior.

Are you considering divorce? Are children involved? Whether you have a baby, a school-age child, or a teen, you will want to be prepared for how they will react to the news that their parents are divorcing and how the divorce will impact them months and years down the line. Use this age-by-age guide to prepare yourself.


In many ways, it may be easiest for parents to get divorced when their children are babies. Babies do not require an explanation for the divorce, since they do not really comprehend parenting and marriage at this point. They are also not old enough to talk and express their feelings, which can be a good or bad thing.

Babies, however, do feel tension. If they see that their parents are fighting and arguing continuously, it can impact them. Babies can become clingy and irritable. They may not be able to develop bonds with new people or they may be prone to emotional outbursts. In severe cases, they can even regress and forget things that they already learned. They can also show signs of developmental delays.

To combat this, develop a routine for your baby. Children at this age thrive on routines, so try to do things at the same time every day, such as naps and meals. Offer physical comfort to your child and make sure favorite toys are always available. This can be a stressful time for you as you navigate divorce with a baby, so be sure to get adequate sleep and take care of yourself, as well.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

During toddlerhood, children develop strong bonds with their parents and it can be hard for them to understand the reasoning behind the divorce. In fact, many toddlers believe they are the cause of their parents’ divorce. As a result, they may want more attention than usual. Some may cry more often and have trouble sleeping at night. They may start to suck their thumbs or become resistant to potty training.

Again, routines are key, so work with the other parent to establish predictability that will help your child feel more secure during this transition. Offer extra attention and have your child discuss his or her feelings with you regularly. Reading books about divorce can also be helpful.

School-Age Children

Younger children will feel especially insecure during this time and worry that their parents do not love them anymore. They may worry about losing a parent and may even try to get their parents back together. Older kids may blame one parent and take sides. Boys tend to get angry and lash out at others, while girls get stressed and anxious. Headaches and upset stomachs are common.

Each parent should spend time with the child and discuss feelings. Children should be reassured that they are not the cause of the divorce and that the parents will not abandon them. Predictability is key, so again, keep establishing routines to maintain some sense of normalcy.


Adolescents and teens tend to distance themselves from their parents. They may feel intense anger toward one or both parents. They may resort to outbursts and name-calling. Teens may take the side of one parent and ignore the other. They may want to spend time away from the house and be with friends more often. Divorce can affect a child academically, causing them to skip school and get poor grades. Teens may also engage in reckless behavior, such as drinking, smoking, drug use and sex.

As a parent, you can help by maintaining an amicable relationship with the other parent. Avoid name-calling and other abusive behavior. Keep your promises to your children. If you say you will take them somewhere or give them something, do it. Discuss future plans and let them know you want them to continue on with school. Reassure them that the divorce will not change you as a parent. Continue to offer them guidance and be a good role model.

Seek Legal Help

While children are resilient, they will no doubt be affected by the divorce to some degree, regardless of age. Even adult children often feel sadness or anger when seeing their parents divorce after decades of marriage.

Ending a relationship is hardly ever easy. Get the help you need from Palm Beach divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler. He can help you put your children and give you the advice you need to help you and your children transition during this difficult time. To schedule a consultation, call our office at (954) 346-6464.