Divorce and the impact on a child’s mental health

The breakdown of a relationship that ends in divorce which involves children can be an emotionally challenging time for the family. Children can feel unsettled as a result of the sudden onset of change, and it is important that parents are alive to how best to support their children through what can be a difficult time.

Recent figures show that around 42% of marriages in the United Kingdom end in divorce. A large number of children are therefore likely to be affected by divorce each year, and the impact on those children can be significant.

A 2017 study found that children living in one-parent, blended, or step- families are about twice as likely to suffer from mental disorders or to need psychological support than children living in intact, nuclear families. A child whose parents divorce when they are between ages 7 and 14 is 16% more likely to suffer from behavioural problems than their peers.

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The likely effects of divorce on children

Since the introduction of no fault divorcethe number of applications for divorce has risen by 13%. Removing the requirement of apportioning blame to obtain a timely divorce has resulted in couples separating more amicably, which assists in preserving their co-parenting relationship.

As a child goes from having both parents readily available to spend time with, to spending time with each parent individually, it can create a lot of uncertainty and instability for them. A child might be reluctant to spend time with a parent in a new environment, or with the presence of new partners. It is therefore important that their wishes and feelings are always the primary consideration.

How divorce effects children of different ages

Divorce is not an “one size fits all” solution and it will affect children in different ways.

Whilst younger children may struggle with the immediate change, they may become accustomed to a new routine quicker than older children. While they adapt to the change, younger children may become more clingy and tearful, and struggle with sleep routines or toilet training.

Some older children may find the immediate change easier to deal with, but they might struggle with adapting to a new routine as they could miss out on spending time with friends at the weekends or may have to make friends at a new school. They may become more angry or withdrawn, and exhibit behavioural problems at school. Teenagers may see increased stress and a reduction in school grades.

What support your child may need

Each child’s needs are different and the level of support they need can vary.

There are many ways to ensure a child feels supported through this difficult change. It can help to speak to somebody they trust from outside the family, such a teacher, family friend or school counsellor. Some children can benefit from professional help such as speaking to a therapist.

There are a range of organisations who can provide advice and support to parents and families, to help them support their children through the divorce process.

  • Action for Children offer free advice to parents, and their website includes a number of useful guides which can be accessed free of charge: Action For Children.
  • Divorce Aid also provides a number of leaflets which can be downloaded from their website, which offer advice for parents and children going through the divorce process: Divorce Aid
  • Relate provide counselling services for families and children, including those going through divorce: Relate

Handling the effects of divorce

There are many ways in which a child can be made to feel supported during the divorce process. If you are going through a divorce, some useful tips to bear in mind are:

  • Remind your child that they are loved and that that will not change whatever the outcome of the divorce.
  • Talk to them and spend time with them regularly, but try to avoid involving them in adult conversations about the divorce.
  • Use positive language when speaking about your child’s other parent, to avoid the child feeling like they are stuck in the middle.
  • Teach them coping skills to help them adapt to the changes they are facing.
  • Encourage them to speak to their friends and teachers about how they are feeling.
  • Seek professional help and support.


As well as trying to support your child, it is very important to look after your own mental health. That can make it easier to provide stable support for your child, so do make sure to seek support for yourself if necessary.

How can Goughs help?

If you are going through a divorce, your child is likely to experience a range of complex emotions. It is important to be able to recognise and address the emotional needs of your child both during and after the divorce.

Consulting a legal professional is a vital step in navigating the legal aspects of divorce, especially when children are involved. Qualified family solicitors are well versed in ensuring that the best interests of the children are protected.

If you are facing a divorce or need legal advice to ensure your child’s well-being, our experienced family law team is here to assist you. Get in contact with today to discuss your situation and how you can protect your child’s best interests. 

Author Bio

Amelia Inglis

I joined Goughs in September 2021 as a Trainee Solicitor, having worked as a property paralegal for three years. I graduated from Swansea University in 2017 with first-class honours in Law, before completing my Legal Practice Course and Masters in Professional Legal Practice with a distinction.

Author Bio

Hannah Francis

I joined Goughs in January 2023 as a trainee solicitor after studying Law at Southampton University and then working for RWK Goodman, I have a very personal service skill set so decided to pursue a career in family law and therefore completed my LPC in June 2021. I’m very approachable and work with people helping them through difficult times.

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