Can Divorce Cause Childhood Trauma?


It is widely known that divorce can be a challenging and emotionally charged experience for both partners involved. However, children also feel the force of this significant life change. Often, parents worry about the potential impact of divorce, leading many to wonder if divorce can cause childhood trauma in children. While research does show a correlation between divorce and mental health issues in children, it's important to note that all children who go through a divorce will have different experiences. In this blog post, we will explore the potential effects of divorce on children.

How Does Divorce Traumatize Children?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children whose parents get divorced go through one of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Other examples of ACEs include experiencing violence, abuse, neglect, and more. These experiences can result in chronic health issues, substance abuse problems, and mental illness in both adolescence and adulthood.

While all children experience divorce differently, the Center for Child Counseling notes that “divorce introduces new stressors into a child’s life” no matter what age they are at. When parents separate, children can feel the stress and worry that comes with the changes in their family dynamic.

For some, a divorce can feel like a betrayal or a broken promise. Most children rely on their homes to be a place where they can feel safe and secure. However, a divorce can disrupt this feeling and a young child may have difficultly processing and coping with this change. It is not uncommon for children to internalize their feelings and/or feel guilt for their parents' divorce, which can have implications for their future mental health and relationships. Therefore, parents who are going through a divorce can work towards being mindful of how their children are coping and supporting them through this difficult time.

Short Term Divorce Effects on Children

Low School Performance

Divorce can have a significant impact on a child's academic performance. A recent study published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry found that adolescents with divorced parents have almost a 5-time higher risk of experiencing school difficulties compared to children from intact families.

Examples of school difficulties included:

  • Skipping school
  • School absence due to family problems
  • Grade repetition
  • Low school performance
  • School dropout ideation


During a divorce, children often experience a myriad of emotions that can be overwhelming for them to process. In some cases, this may result in feelings of anger and irritability, which can be directed at a range of perceived causes. Parents, family members, friends, and even the children themselves may become the target of this anger. Understanding and acknowledging these feelings is essential in supporting children during this challenging time. With appropriate guidance and support, children can learn to navigate their emotions in a constructive way and move forward with greater resilience.


Regression is a behavior that is commonly seen in younger children who are struggling to cope with a difficult situation. These children may begin to exhibit signs such as bed-wetting, having accidents, temper tantrums, or reverting back to babyish behavior that they had previously outgrown. While this behavior is normal for children in some cases, it can also be a red flag that professional help is needed.

Long-Term Divorce Effects on Children

Mental Health Problems

Research has shown that the conflict between divorced or separated parents can increase the risk of children developing mental health problems. A recent study from the Arizona State University Research and Education Advancing Children’s Health (REACH) Institute discovered that children in such situations experience fear of abandonment due to the conflicts between their parents. These fears then predict future mental health issues in these children, further highlighting the importance of parents prioritizing their children's wellbeing and avoiding conflict in their presence.

Difficulty in Romantic Relationships

The effects of divorce on children can be far-reaching and long-lasting, particularly when it comes to their ability to form stable and trusting relationships in the future. Children of divorced parents may struggle with a fear of rejection and a lack of trust, which can make it difficult for them to connect deeply with others and to build lasting romantic relationships. This can lead to a hesitancy around marriage and a persistent sense of unease in their romantic lives.

How to Help Children Cope with Divorce

Divorce can be a traumatic experience for children. The fallout can manifest in negative behaviors that carry on into adulthood. However, it doesn't have to be this way for every child. By prioritizing your children's well-being and seeking support, you can help their children navigate this difficult process.

Examples of ways to help your child cope with divorce include:

  • Letting them express their emotions
  • Staying involved in their life
  • Avoid putting down your ex-spouse in front of your child
  • Communicate with your child honestly
  • Consider having your child work with a counselor or therapist

With attention and care, children can emerge from divorce with a better understanding of themselves and a more positive outlook on life.

Contact Jetton & Meredith, PLLC

If you find yourself in a difficult family law situation, our team at Jetton & Meredith, PLLC is here to help. Our experienced divorce lawyers can assist you with divorce, child custody and support, and other family law matters. We recognize the stress and emotions that come with these situations and will work with you to provide the legal support you need. With decades of experience, our team has the knowledge and skills to guide you through the legal process and help you pursue a favorable outcome.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards resolving your family law matter. Call (704) 931-5535 or contact us online.