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Research

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What Is the Impact on Children?

Children are impacted in different ways by family transitions, such as divorce, separation, or custody changes. The impacts depend on both internal factors, including age, gender, and temperament, and external factors, including level of parental conflict, number of transitions during the process, and newly assumed or increased economic hardship.

Some impacts will be negative and some will be positive. Over time, how children cope with family transitions depends on the unique balance of risk and protective factors they experience.

Understanding the research behind why some children are at greater risk for negative outcomes and why some are more resilient creates a map of what areas are important to target in a program like Parents Forever™.

Following are some examples of research findings on the impact of divorce on children.

Divorce May Impact Some Children Negatively

Type of study: A meta-analysis of 67 studies conducted in the 1990s (Amato, 2001)

Results: More children with divorced parents (compared to children without divorced parents) scored poorly on academic measures and experienced psychological and behavioral problems, as well as problems in their social relationships.

Divorce Impacts Some Children Differently Based on Gender and Timing

Type of study: Followed a group of children over time from kindergarten to the end of 9th grade (n=356; Malone et al., 2004)

Results: Divorce was not related to girls’ externalizing behaviors, but it was related to externalizing behaviors for boys. Results depended on timing.

Divorce Can Be Both a Risk and a Protective Factor

Type of study: Sample of maltreated children (n=250; Dare & Mallett, 2009)

Results: Divorce was a protective factor, making the probability of delinquency in adolescence significantly less likely.

Sources

Amato, P. R. (2001). Children of Divorce in the 1990s; An Update of the Amato and Keith (1991) Meta-Analysis. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(3), 355-370.

Malone, P. S., Lansford, J. E., Castellino, D. R., Berlin, L. J., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (2004). Divorce and Child Behavior Problems: Applying Latent Change Score Models to Life Event Data. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 11(3), 401-423.

Stoddard Dare, P., & Mallett, C. A. (2009). Parental Divorce: A Protection from Later Delinquency for Maltreated Children. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 50(6), 388-399.

Related Resources

Parent-Child Relationships — Explore how divorce, separation, and custody change can affect the relationships parents have with their children. 

Research on School Success  — Review the research on factors for school success and more.

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