Psychological and Emotional Effects of Divorce for Parents and Children

Almost every divorce creates stress, with great potential for negative psychological and emotional impact on everyone involved. If the divorce is adversarial, it can take family members approximately four to eight years to recover from the emotional and financial expense, and it can cost each party $5,000 to $35,000. (  Emotional problems and resentment increase as the focus is on blame and who is at fault, and communication between parties breaks down.

Whatever the circumstances of your divorce, legal issues must be resolved fairly and according to Illinois law. The skilled Illinois family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. understand the emotional as well as the financial aspects of divorce.  We offer a free consultation to examine your individual situation, and provide professional guidance to help you come up with solutions that benefit both you and your children.

Emotional Effects of Divorce on Children

When parents divorce, the children’s lives change significantly, as they have to deal with loss of love between parents, adjust to shuttling between two households, and feel the daily absence of one parent.

According to the American Psychological Association, while the majority of children of divorce fall within the normal range of adjustment, they are at a higher risk for adjustment problems than children from intact families. For example, these children experience less financial security, lower academic achievement, more alcohol and cigarette use, and lower rates of employment as young adults. Factors such as the age of the child, time since the divorce, parenting style, financial security, and type and extent of parental conflict all contribute to post-divorce adjustment. (

According to Kathleen O’Connell Corcoran at, children’s psychological reactions to their parents’ divorce vary, depending on three factors: (1) the quality of their relationship with each of their parents before the separation, (2) the intensity and duration of the parental conflict, and (3) the parents’ ability to focus on the needs of children in their divorce.

Boys have greater social and academic adjustment problems than girls. They act out their anger, get into trouble in school, and fight more with peers and parents. Girls internalize distress and may become depressed, develop headaches or stomach aches, and have changes in their eating and sleeping patterns.

A major factor in adjustment is whether children are secure in their relationship with their parents and adapt to various time-sharing schedules. When fathers are involved in their children’s lives, pay child support and contribute to expenses for a child, adjustment increases.

The attitudes of parents to each other counts as well. Conflicts with ex-spouses often cause fathers to withdraw from their parenting role, and violence is more likely to occur in high-conflict marriages.

Fear, distress, and other symptoms in children are diminished when parents resolve their conflicts and use compromise and negotiation. If you and your divorcing spouse can come to an agreement and work out your differences, you can not only avoid having a difficult, expensive, and drawn-out contested courtroom proceeding, you can ensure that the psychological problems for all family members are minimized.

Effects on Women

Corcoran reports that while women are twice as likely to initiate divorce as men, doing so often leaves them in poverty: 65% of divorced mothers receive no child support, and 60% of people under poverty guidelines are divorced women and children. Still, she notes that after divorce, women experience less stress and better adjustment in general than do men. Reasons for this include:  (1) women are more likely to notice marital problems and to feel relief when problems end, (2) women are more likely to rely on social support systems and help from others, and (3) women are more likely to experience an increase in self-esteem when they add new roles to their lives after divorce.

Effects on Men

Corcoran finds that even though men marry more quickly, they usually have greater emotional adjustment problems than women. The reasons include loss of intimacy and social connection, reduced finances, and interruption of the parental role. If men have not initiated the divorce, they may feel shock, betrayal, loss of control, victimization, decreased self esteem, insecurity, anger, a desire to “get even,” and wishes to reconcile.

In general, men do better emotionally if they stay involved with their children through shared parental responsibilities and time, accept responsibility for activities and expenses of children, and comply with child support obligations.

How to Create a Healthy Post-Divorce Adjustment

While every family is unique, the studies show certain factors that contribute to post-divorce adjustment.  These include:

  1. The quality of the parent-child relationship — providing emotional support, monitoring children’s activities, disciplining authoritatively, and maintaining age-appropriate expectations
  2. Involvement of the non-residential parent through shared parental responsibility and time custody arrangements
  3. Low parental conflict
  4. The parents’ psychological health.

Parents should focus on positive co-parenting, establish workable household and visitation routines and rituals, and keep life as predictable as possible for themselves and their children.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.

Divorce and family law issues always have the potential to stir up psychological problems and negative emotions.  Fortunately, there is help available, and you may find comfort in knowing a lawyer is on your side. The seasoned attorneys at Wolfe & Stec handle all Illinois family law cases with sensitivity, respect, and discretion.

At Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., we made our reputation one client at a time, and we put every ounce of our ability into every case.  There are no ready-made solutions in divorce and family law – every case needs to be considered on its own merit. Our lawyers take the time to delve deeply into the problem and to understand your goals and concerns. Then we develop a legal strategy designed to achieve those objectives.

Delaying can only complicate your situation and make matters worse.  Call us today for your free initial consultation at 630-305-0222 or contact our team online.

Attorney Natalie Stec

Natalie M. Stec, born and raised in Illinois, and earned her Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her practice has been concentrated in significant pre and post decree marital and family law cases; including custody, visitation, support, and paternity matters. She has important criminal defense experience in both misdemeanor and felony cases. She is a very dedicated and passionate litigator. [ Attorney Bio ]