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New study reveals the damaging effect of divorce on children’s mental health

Marriage and Family
17 January 2019
Mother and child 2

A study from researchers at University College London has revealed the damaging impact that divorce has on children’s mental health. The study looked at data on more than 6,000 children born in the UK since the millennium comparing children who experienced a family split with those who didn’t.

Increase in emotional problems

It found a 16 per cent rise in emotional problems and an 8 per cent rise in conduct issues for children between the ages of 7 and 14 whose parents broke up. Emotional problems increased for both boys and girls but behavioural issues were seen only in boys. These increases also cut across class divides with there being no benefit for coming from a more ‘privileged’ background.

This is the first British study to look into the links between divorce and the mental wellbeing of children and it reinforces previous research on the negative impact of divorce on children.

Divorce does not necessarily reduce conflict

For example, The Exeter Family Study[1] found that, “Separation and divorce do not necessarily reduce damaging conflict and, indeed, that as a generality the reverse may be true. In other words, the experience of most children whose parents divorce is of increased conflict over an extended period, with the child involved to an extent that may not have been the case while the marriage lasted.”

‘No fault’ divorce

This brings into sharp relief the priorities of the Government who just recently consulted on their proposed changes to divorce law. They want to bring in so called ‘no fault’ divorce, despite concerns it will lead to an increased divorce rate as well as negatively affect children. Their response to the consultation is due in March and CARE hopes that the concerns raised around the negative impact of divorce on children will have been listened to.

As we noted at the time:

“The Government’s hopes of reducing the negative impact of divorce on children seem short sighted at best. They are based on the myth that divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts most of its harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup.

At CARE we are deeply concerned about the welfare of children. The Government needs to back marriages, back families, and face the truth that in most situations it is in the best interests of children for families to stay together.”

CARE’s response

CARE’s Family Policy Officer Jonathan Williams commented

“This study further reinforces what we have known about divorce for a very long time: it is damaging to children and not in their best interests.

The mental health of children in the UK must be a priority for the Government. That means backing families and backing marriage.

The Government’s decision to push ahead their ‘no-reason’ divorce laws is not in the best interest of families and could well lead to the negative mental health outcomes this study has revealed.”

Find out more

In December we published two blogs on our website around the Government’s proposals to introduce no fault divorce.

BLOG 1: Jonathan explains why the no fault divorce proposals will undermine marriage

BLOG 2: Jonathan explores why no fault divorce could have negative consequences for children

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