Divorce in America and How Children Are Affected

The Facts


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Remember that statistic going around a while ago? The one that said half of American marriages end in divorce? Well, luckily that is both untested and, two years ago, was proven incorrect. Marriages seem to be healthier than the public assumes, with the divorce rate at its highest in the 1970s and 80s but having been steadily declining since then. According to the New York Times, assuming the current decline will remain steady, the divorce rate will actually be closer to one in three marriages than one in two. (Miller 2014)

This is all great news, considering that many couples will likely stay together, but what about the couples that do divorce? Those two families out of three might stay married ‘til death do they part, but that third family probably won’t get passed those difficult, early years of marriage. Maybe they fight, maybe they just lose that initial passion for each other or fall in love with other people. Eventually, they decide to divorce. They go through the paperwork: who keeps the house, the dog, the car. Who keeps the kids. In America, there are 1.5 million children who deal with the fallback of divorce every year (Arkowitz 2013). Although each divorce situation is different from another, there tend to be similar areas of children’s lives that are affected by the split.

The Studies

Professor Paul Amato, a sociologist at Penn State University, described divorce as leading to conflicts in relationships between those involved in the divorce, a lack of both monetary and emotional support, and various other detrimental effects on everyday home life. Amato outlined this in his 2000 study of ‘The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children’. He was credited in a 2012 study by Patrick F. Fagan and Aaron Churchill of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, in which they further his summation into five categories of life that divorce detrimentally impacts. As evident in the following five categories, divorce can affect children physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and mentally. With religion (1), they noted that children had lower attendance rates at religious gatherings after their parents divorced. They claimed that divorce can lower children’s ability to learn and comprehend in school (2), that the financial instability for single parents creates a shaky household (3), and children can become more prone to committing crimes and getting involved in explicit activities (4). The children’s well-being can be compromised by the event, leading to negative expressions of emotions or even physical harm to themselves in extreme cases (5). (Churchill, Fagan 2012)


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However, the positive outlook on divorce is that the majority of children only suffer short-term affects after the initial announcement, as seen in the image below. Usually, these symptoms occur because of the abruptness of the decision by the parents, if conflict was not obvious, and can carry on until the separated family system becomes stable once again, typically around two years after the divorce. In contrast, families where conflict was vocal or physical, children were shown to be more adaptable to the change and may have even seen it as a relief. (Arkowitz 2013)

My Experience

To demonstrate how not all children are affected by divorce in the same way, I’ll provide myself as an example. When I was five and my sister seven, our parents ended their relationship and divorced amicably. For the next thirteen years, we went between houses weekly; our dad kept the house, since he owned it and hasn’t moved out since, whereas our mom, who had low income, lived in various apartments and rented homes until she remarried.


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My sister and I don’t fit into many of the areas I mentioned earlier. The only thing that really applies to us is the marketplace, because our mom and dad had such different levels of income, but tried to keep support equal between them. What none of the articles or studies I read mentioned explicitly, however, was the stress of being the middleman. Having to tell your parent what another one said because they refuse to contact each other directly if they can help it, or having to decide which one to ask to pay for something you want or need. In my case, not only was there stress from the initial divorce, but also feeling the strain of always having to be the mediator between our parents afterward.

For anyone interested in recent news about divorce, check out this article about a law in Missouri that establishes equal child custody time between parents.

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