Divorce and child – Divorce & children’s emotions

Divorces are becoming increasingly common. Divorce is not always difficult, but it remains an unpleasant step regardless. A Mediator or divorce mediation can have a positive effect. Especially when it concerns parents with children. Good guidance during the divorce process is very important for children. What emotions does the child have and how do you deal with them? The saying ‘divorce causes suffering’ is there for a reason, but it can be limited. Tips about children and divorce.

Divorce and impact

In the Netherlands, one (almost two) out of three marriages ends in divorce. Divorces are almost more the rule than the exception these days. Divorce is always a difficult process because you lose a partner. Even if you agree to separate, it remains an unpleasant step. What makes it even worse is that you not only lose your partner, but sometimes also (joint) acquaintances, friends, family or in-laws. Regardless of how you deal with it as divorcing partners, it seems to be difficult for people around you to accept that a couple is breaking up. There is still somewhat of a taboo on divorce. It often happens that people side with one or the other. This can have unpleasant consequences, such as a tense atmosphere during outings, birthdays, holidays, etc., if one does not dare to invite both ex-partners. The situation is often avoided and the ‘exes’ are invited separately at another time or on another day. The saying: Divorce causes suffering is not without reason.

Divorce and children

Most children assume that their father and mother will simply stay together forever. Young children in particular take this so much for granted that they never consider for a moment that it may not always remain that way. If parents decide to separate, this is generally not in the interests of children (except of course in special or traumatic situations such as abuse, incest, etc.). Suddenly a lot changes. Especially in the first period after a divorce, most children have more to lose than to gain:

  • The family falls apart
  • They often have to get used to a parent who is absent, but often also to a parent who has to work more and is therefore absent more often.
  • Changing all normal daily things (eating together, with the young child: a bedtime story, etc.)
  • Loyalty problems often arise
  • There is often less money to spend
  • There may be a move
  • There may be a change of school

The divorce itself is only the beginning of a series of changes in the child’s life.

Before the divorce – Tension factors and reasons for divorce

There has usually been a time of tension prior to the divorce. This partly depends on factors such as:

  • Was there or is there a lot of arguing between the parents or not?
  • How long has it been, things have not been going well in the parental relationship
  • What was the bond between the parents, but also important: the bond of both father and mother with the children
  • Are the parents, apart from (love) partners, involved in raising children/involved in the children or not?
  • What is the reason for the divorce
  • Have the parents consulted a mediator or divorce mediator?
  • Do they have a joint lawyer or each have a separate lawyer?
  • There is also a legal battle between the lawyers
  • Are there any problems with paying alimony? both child support and spousal support
  • Do the parents project their own struggles and frustrations onto the (situation of the) children?

There are more factors to mention. In practice, it seems to make a positive difference if the parents have visited a mediator or divorce mediator together.

Divorce process and conflicts – Attitude of parents towards children

From the very beginning of the divorce, it is very important that the children are kept out of conflict. Some children often feel guilty or to blame for the argument between the parents and the divorce (even if the parents give no reason for this at all). It is important to repeatedly tell the child that father and mother are getting divorced, but that this is not the child’s fault. Many children also continue to hope that things will turn out well after the divorce. This is further reinforced when one of the parents did not actually want a divorce. It is therefore very important that it is clearly emphasized that the divorce is really final. Many parents find it difficult to say this so harshly to their child, because they are afraid of hurting their child. However, the child will suffer more from false hope. If the child knows that it is final, it knows where it stands and can begin to process the divorce, come to terms with it and focus and adjust to the new situation.

Emotions of children during divorce

After a divorce, it is also very important to make it clear that the child does not have to make a choice between the parents. The child must be prevented from feeling like he or she has to choose sides. A child cannot take sides between the parents, because he wants the love of both and does not want to hurt either parent. A good basis to prevent all this is for a parent to never talk negatively about the other parent to the child.

Although it (partly) depends on the way in which parents deal with it, a divorce always brings problems. Because no matter how well the divorce is arranged, feelings and problems cannot really be ruled out. The child is also confronted with the feelings of the parents. The parental divorce process is a major event for children. After a divorce, the child often no longer knows what to expect. It can be a confusing and annoying period, during which some children start to exhibit problem behavior.

Every child will react in his own way, which is of course partly influenced by the various factors mentioned above. But also, for example, by the age of the child, the quality of the relationship with the parents, the way in which the parents deal with the divorce and how or whether they support the child during the divorce.


Despite the fact that divorce is common nowadays – in a school class there are often more children of divorced parents than of parents who are together -, many children are still ashamed of the fact that their parents are divorced. They often find it difficult to talk about it with peers for fear of being considered crazy or pathetic.

Sad or scared

A divorce can evoke different feelings in children. Some children feel sad after the divorce or are afraid of the unknown (unpredictability of the) new situation.

Angry or hurt

Sometimes children are also angry with their parents because they created the bad situation. Or angry and hurt by the feeling of being abandoned by the parent who leaves. This can give the feeling of not being important enough. Especially if there is a third person involved (one of the parents has fallen in love with another), anger can predominate. Some children are also afraid that the parent they live with will not be able to cope with the situation and fear that the other parent might leave too.


Sometimes children are relieved after a divorce, because the tension and arguments in the house have come to an end. These feelings can then cause children to become confused and sad and angry again. A child does not want to be happy or relieved at all when a parent leaves. So it can be very confusing for children, because there are all kinds of conflicting feelings surrounding a divorce.

Show few emotions

There are also children who show very little emotion. Apparently the divorce doesn’t seem to bother them much, but the opposite is often true. Some children sometimes act this way to spare their parents. They then act extra sweet or keep quiet/withdraw so as not to bother their parents.

The child starts to feel responsible for the parent

Another group of children tries to provide extra support to their parents. They are very accommodating and try to help the parent where possible. Sometimes this goes so far that the child starts to feel (partly) responsible for the parent. This especially happens when the children are older at the time of the divorce. This situation must be prevented, because the child or young person needs space to cope with all their emotions and to receive support instead of giving it. This can also disrupt authority relations. After some time, the parent wants to resume his role as parent and may then encounter a lot of resistance from the child or young person.

Visitation arrangements and co-parenting or divided parenting

As mentioned, one third of the total number of marriages ends in divorce. More than two-thirds of these involve minor children. Children between the ages of 10 and 19 are at the greatest risk of experiencing a divorce from their parents. After the divorce, parents often face a difficult process of finding good arrangements regarding dealing with and seeing the children. This can be accompanied by a lot of confusion, conflict, sadness and pain for everyone involved. After the divorce, a decision must be made whether to opt for visitation arrangements or co-parenting. This is of course especially true if there are young(er) children involved. Older children generally have more input and choice.

The demand for divorce is made by the woman in more than half of the cases. The main reason appears to be the unequal distribution of care and upbringing tasks. This point, the division of care and parenting tasks, appears to be a pretty good indicator of whether co-parenting will have a reasonable chance of success. Most men who are hardly concerned with the care and upbringing of the children during the marriage appear not to do so after the divorce. Choosing a contact arrangement, which the author Lampe (see below) calls divided parenting, appears to have a greater chance of success than co-parenting.

Co-parenting or shared parenting – Joint custody

Co-parenting or shared parenting means the following: jointly caring for the children after the divorce, with a minimum time division of 70% – 30% over the week or month. There is also a formal side to it: joint legal custody of the children.

The author Paula Lampe has inventoried the pitfalls of co-parenting through literature research, a survey and a descriptive practical study. Lampe makes it clear that ex-partners who choose co-parenting must realize that they place high demands on themselves, on each other and on the children. In fact, she thinks that only model children are suitable. The impression is created that only model adults are suitable. According to Lampe, co-parenting has a paradoxical character: partners may separate, but parents must maintain intensive contact about the children. In practice, this appears to place a heavy burden on the children involved and their parents.

Children need support during and after a divorce. The most important support must come from the parents, no matter how difficult this can sometimes be. The divorce is also a very difficult period for the parents. A lot has to be arranged, the future is uncertain and your own emotions during the divorce also play an important role. In addition, parents often find it difficult to talk to the child about the divorce due to feelings of guilt. Yet it is very important to keep talking about it with the children. If the parents are able to continue to care for the children together after the divorce, this has a positive effect on the further development. It is beneficial to have regular contact, sometimes to be together for a while and to allow each other to have contact or a relationship with the children. This will allow the children to process the divorce sooner and come to terms with it better. If the conflicts continue after the divorce, this will cause the child a lot of distress and make the divorce extra difficult.

A divorce cannot always be prevented, but by dealing with it honestly, openly and with understanding of the child’s feelings, it can be ensured that the child suffers as little as possible.

Help the child

Support from the environment

The child’s environment (neighbor, teacher, grandmother and grandfather, etc.) can also provide the necessary support. By offering a listening ear and not taking sides with one of the parents, offering the child distraction, giving extra attention, etc. It is important from school to show understanding when learning is not going well for a while.

It is very important to offer children the opportunity to talk about the divorce in an open manner. Although the child will not always be open to a conversation, it is good to continue to offer this option. After a divorce, children benefit from a little extra attention, but also from regularity, structure and clarity in their lives as quickly as possible.


If a child continues to have difficulty processing and/or continues to exhibit problem behavior over time, it is advisable to see an expert: Psychologist, Orthopedagogue or Pedagogue.

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