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What age of child is most at risk when parents divorce?

Parents divorcing can be hard for children of any age. Even adults living on their own whose parents divorce may have adverse emotional reactions to the divorce itself and go through a tumultuous time in the relationships with their parents.

While processing a parental divorce is a universal issue regardless of age, it is certainly true that some children will struggle to adjust to a parental divorce far more than others will. At what age is a child the most vulnerable to negative consequences because of a parental divorce?

Divorce may be hardest on grade-school-age children

There are unique challenges for children of any age when their parents divorce. Infants and toddlers may not understand what has happened at all or have the communication skills or emotional awareness to discuss their thoughts and feelings about a divorce. Teenagers, already going through an emotionally tumultuous time, may become extra rebellious or withdrawn and depressive when parents divorce.

However, children over the age of reason but not yet in puberty are at a critical formative point both emotionally and socially. Divorce can be hard to comprehend and even harder to adjust to. Grade-school children may struggle to understand the role they will play in the family after the divorce. The anxiety and depression they experience could alter their personality permanently or delay their social and emotional development.

Should you wait until your children are older to divorce?

If your marriage has truly devolved to a point where divorce seems like the only viable option, putting it off for a few years for the sake of the children might do more harm than good. If you and your ex have a contentious relationship while cohabitating, the stress of your conflicts will inevitably affect your children’s happiness and mental health.

Instead of waiting until your children reach a different age, a better approach might involve cooperating with your ex to minimize conflict. You don’t have to fight over everything and put your children in the middle. If parents work together and try to protect their children from issues in the parental relationship, the children may have an easier time adjusting to the divorce and moving on.