Although every child’s situation in divorce is unique, there are universal reactions that can be reliably predicted on the basis of such things as age, sex, and the level of the development. Following is a brief overview from the Family and Children’s Services of how a child’s lifestyle can be affected at different ages by divorce:


  • Impact is indirect. Babies feel their parent’s distress, not their own.


  • Children feel unprotected.
  • Basic needs often are not met, delaying developmental tasks.
  • Failure to master trust.
  • Nightmares increase.
  • Regressive behavior (bed wetting, thumb sucking)


  • Blame themselves for family breakup.
  • Fears escalate with stress at home.
  • Regression.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Profound sadness.
  • In young females, unfocused anger turned inward becomes depression.
  • In young males, anger turned outward becomes aggression.


  • Fears escalate.
  • Low self-esteem and sense of helplessness confirmed by inability to prevent divorce.
  • Survival feels threatened.
  • Deep sense of deprivation.
  • A feeling of being torn between both parents.
  • Attempts to fill role of missing parent.

AGES 9 TO 12

  • See divorce as parent’s problem, not their own.
  • Chooses between “good parent” and “bad parent”.
  • Visitation with non-custodial parent “bad parent” – infrequent, especially with boys.
  • Experience feelings of shame, resentment, rejection and loneliness.
  • As an act of revenge, some children intentionally attempt to punish parent held responsible for divorce.
  • If home life prior to divorce was filled with tension or violence, children can feel relieved by divorce.
  • Fantasize about living with other parent.
  • Often parent/child reversal takes place.


  • Alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, over-aggressive behavior are escape routes.
  • High school drop-outs.
  • More turbulence and stress.
  • Regress into security of childhood.
  • Loyalty conflicts.
  • Depression.
  • Fears for future and monetary concerns.