KLG Header Image
Khonsari Law Group / Blog / Divorce / The Psychological Effects of Divorce

The Psychological Effects of Divorce

a man and woman are standing in a park

For many married people considering divorce, it will not be a surprise to learn that the process leads to psychological stress. This stress can negatively affect a person’s mental health for years to come. One study found that divorce increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse, among other possible issues. Those issues can also prompt divorces: Living intimately with a person suffering from a depressive disorder can take a toll on a marriage.

Many other psychological and medical effects can emerge from divorce. Despite this, many couples in unhappy marriages find that they are happier after divorced with the help of an experienced divorce attorney. Both spouses and children can mitigate the psychological stress of divorce by understanding the risks they face.

The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Parties Who Separate Amicably

The divorce process itself can significantly affect a person’s mental health. A lengthy, bitter divorce process can increase the negative impact on healthy psychological functioning even more. On the other hand, an amicable divorce where the parties can settle their differences by agreement can reduce the negative impact a divorce has on mental health.

This does not mean that there is no psychological stress associated with ending a marriage amicably. Even the most straightforward divorce process exposes a person to emotional trauma and difficult life changes. But choosing to settle differences by agreement – instead of lengthy and expensive court battles – can mitigate the negative impact a divorce has on mental health.

The Psychological Effects of Divorce on a Litigant

A litigant takes a legal dispute to court for a judge or jury to resolve. (There are no juries in divorce cases, so a judge settles all divorce matters.) Litigating a divorce case can take time. It is not only costly, but it can also be very contentious. Litigants must testify about painful experiences and continue seeing their former spouse.

The difficult litigation process can seriously impact a person’s psychological functioning. This is in addition to the negative impact that ending the relationship also has on mental health. A litigant can also feel unsettled for months or years while the divorce is pending. It is difficult to move past marriage and its stressors with ongoing court dates and evidentiary disputes.

The final divorce decree can provide a sense of closure that helps many people start rebuilding a new life after divorce. Unfortunately, litigants must face lengthy delays and bitter battles to obtain this crucial legal document.

All this is not to say that litigation is “wrong.” In some cases, there is no possibility for settlement, and taking the divorce to court is the only way that one (or both) spouses can fight for their legal rights. Even in these circumstances, there are ways to mitigate the impact of litigation on mental health.

For example, litigation only needs to address areas of dispute. If two spouses can agree on certain matters (like child custody, child support, alimony, or property division), they do not need to submit these issues to a judge. This can help the litigation process move forward. It can also help manage the contentiousness of a divorce. When two spouses can agree on something – anything – it makes it easier to find some amount of common ground.

This is particularly important for couples who have children. Parents must continue working together long after a divorce is final. Agreements in the divorce process can “set the stage” for a more productive co-parenting relationship in the future. These legal steps can mitigate the difficulty of the litigation process, but there are also important steps a person can take to mitigate the effects of litigation on their mental health.

Getting professional support is critical. Mental health professionals know just how devastating a lengthy and contentious divorce can be and the exact impact it can have on your mental health. These professionals can support you and help develop a strategy for managing the stress of contentious litigation during even the longest of divorce cases.

The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children

For many parents, the divorce’s effect on their children is more important than its toll on their own mental health. There is little doubt that divorce can hurt a child’s mental and emotional well-being.

Parental divorce or separation brings an increased risk for many childhood adjustment problems. These include academic difficulties, disruptive behaviors, and depressed moods. Often these adjustment disorders follow a child into adolescence – and sometimes even adulthood. Despite these risks, parents who stay together only for the child’s sake expose them to other problems. Many researchers view separation as a potentially positive step when it prevents children from seeing unhappy marriages, high conflict, and other situations that can also harm their mental health.

No lawyer can tell a parent what is best for their child. But when a person needs a divorce, there are ways to reduce the psychological impact a separation will have on the child.

How Parents Can Help Children Cope With the Psychological Stress of Divorce

Many skilled behavioral health professionals can help families deal with divorce. By consulting an expert and preparing in advance, parents can help their children better adjust to divorce and drastically reduce the odds they will experience an adjustment disorder. Parents can also help mitigate other negative effects from the psychological stress of divorce.

Some tips on how to talk with children about divorce include:

  1. Explain the divorce in simple, straightforward terms the child can understand. When possible, parents should agree on how they should explain the divorce and have the discussion together as a family.
  1. Explain the basic logistics of the new arrangement, so children understand they will still see both parents. School-age children can benefit from seeing time with each parent on a calendar. For younger children, it might be helpful to use dolls or stuffed animals to demonstrate how they will spend time with each parent.
  2. Let kids know that it is okay and normal to feel emotions about the divorce. If children try to hold these feelings in, it can lead to greater psychological stress and long-term damage to their mental health. Check in with children frequently about their emotions throughout the entire divorce process.
  3. Be sure that children understand divorce is not their fault. Children have a worldview that centers on themselves. This is a normal stage of childhood development, but it can lead children to blame themselves when bad things happen. Reassure your child that the divorce is not their fault. Children may also need reassurance that both parents still love them and that they have not done anything wrong.
  4. Do not talk badly about the other parent in front of children. Many children feel a conflict in loyalty to their parents during a divorce, and parents can exacerbate this by inadvertently sending the message that the other parent is “bad.” Trashing a parent can also affect a child’s feelings of self-worth. Children understand that they are a composite of both parents, so if one of these parts is “bad,” they might feel bad about themselves. Finally, talking badly about the other parent can discourage your child from sharing their feelings. Maintain an open dialogue about divorce. For all these reasons, many family court judges specifically order parents not to talk badly about the other parent in front of their children.
  5. Prepare your child before one parent moves out. Give them plenty of notice, and explain how and when they will be seeing the parent who moves out. This transition can be easier for children when they visit the new home, see where they will be sleeping, and understand the new arrangement. Allowing children to help furnish the new home or bring some of their belongings to the new home can also make this transition easier.
  6. Be sure your child has someone to talk to about the divorce. Many children are afraid to say things that may hurt their parents but may feel more open to discussing these difficult topics with a therapist or counselor. A mental health professional can help guide your child’s emotions in productive ways to mitigate the psychological stress a child experiences during the divorce.
  7. Prepare for setbacks. Children act out in many different ways. Some even regress on development milestones – for example, a child might start wetting the bed again during the divorce. Do not feel discouraged. These setbacks are temporary, and families can work together to overcome them. Give yourself and your children space to work through painful emotions.

Do not hesitate to get all the support you can during the challenging divorce period. Mental health professionals, teachers, and school staff are wonderful resources. These professionals have experience helping children through the many difficult transitions associated with divorce. Friends, family, and community can also help parents get the support to navigate these major life changes. Though divorce can feel overwhelming, no one has to go through it alone.

The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Victims of Domestic Violence

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events a person can endure. This does not mean that it is automatically the worst step a person can take to promote their mental health. Domestic violence in a marriage forces the victim to consider the ongoing toll the abuse takes on their mental health. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse can all devastate a person’s emotional functioning.

Stalking and psychological abuse are most likely to cause PTSD or depression in a victim of domestic violence. If the victim can end the abusive relationship through divorce, these symptoms will be far more treatable. Even if there is stress and trauma from the divorce itself, this trauma often outweighs the more serious consequences of domestic violence on healthy psychological functioning.

Domestic violence is a complicated social issue that requires the intervention of trained mental health professionals. In these relationships, there are also dangers associated with leaving an abuser. But an assessment of the psychological impact of divorce must also fairly assess the psychological impact of ongoing trauma.

Mental health counselors can help victims take charge of their lives and protect their safety. Attorneys trained in domestic violence can handle these divorce cases while also taking necessary legal steps (such as getting restraining orders) to protect their clients.

Leaving an abusive relationship is never easy. With the right team of professionals, however, people can do it in a way that mitigates the risks and possible ongoing psychological damage.

Adjusting to Life After a Divorce

Despite the stress and trauma, a divorce can cause, there is evidence that gives hope for more satisfaction in life following a divorce. Researchers found that some divorced adults did report lower life satisfaction overall than their married counterparts, but this was not always the case.

The level of life satisfaction after a divorce directly related to the perceived quality of the marriage. As expected, many participants in unhappy marriages achieved higher life satisfaction by ending the relationship. The fact of the matter is that there is no single rule about whether the psychological stress of divorce outweighs the benefit. Each person must make this determination on their own. When divorce does happen, it is possible to mitigate the psychological risks in many different ways.

How the Right Divorce Attorney Can Help

St. Petersburg divorce lawyers cannot take away all the emotional stress of divorce. However, they can handle the legal side of the process, which takes this stress off your shoulders. Further, having the right attorney can increase the chances of successful negotiation or mediation, which helps resolve the matter quicker and more amicably.

Facing divorce can be frightening, as your future is uncertain. A lawyer can advise you what to expect from the divorce process and of your legal rights. This can bring some immediate relief, as you have more confidence that you will not be alone and destitute following the divorce. Knowing your financial and parental rights can ease some stress, so you can better handle all the psychological challenges of your divorce.

Khonsari Law Group is an experienced divorce law firm in St. Petersburg, FL area,  Contact us for a free consultation.

Share This Post

Schedule a Free Consultation