Can a parental divorce impact a child’s future relationships?

It should be unsurprising that experiencing a parents’ divorce can be very difficult for any child. The inevitable change in routine, housing location, not to mention the contention between their parents during the duration of the proceedings can take an enormous toll. 

Some studies have suggested that this toll can be felt for decades following the divorce. This research has gone as far as to imply that experiencing a parental divorce can sometimes hurt the way children approach their relationships through adolescence and adulthood. 

Can a parental divorce impact a child's future relationships?

In reality, experiencing a parental divorce and the ways that might impact a child’s relationships is not at all a one-size-fits-all outcome. A multitude of factors determines the impact of the experience. This includes the reason for the divorce, how messy it was, the family environment that was created after the divorce took place. Additionally, the personality, resilience, and attitude of the child play a large role. 

What are some common persistent behaviours following a parental divorce? 

Overall, those who experienced a parents’ divorce during their younger years understandably tend to have less positive attitudes towards marriage. There are numerous ways in which these attitudes are acted out in later relationships. Several of the most outcomes that repeatedly emerge in scientific studies of adults who witnessed a parental divorce during their formative years are as follows:


Trust is a trait that is overwhelmingly noted in the cornerstone of any successfully functioning relationship. Parental divorce may lead to low confidence in children who witness the breakdown of the partnership. Loss of faith in a partner or an action which breaks trust (such as adultery) can often be the root cause of the divorce. Understandably, children of divorced parents have a strong fear of being rejected, mainly if that is what they watched one or both of their parent’s experience. 

One study showed that when compared with women from non-divorced families, women from divorced families report less trust and satisfaction in romantic relationships. Further, those with divorce parents approached new relationships with much more caution than those from still-married families. A lack of confidence in any potential partner to remain faithful, loving, and committed can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Of course, that’s not to say it isn’t possible! It is entirely incorrect to claim that “children of divorce” cannot trust, particularly if their parents maintained a cordial and healthy co-parenting relationship after the separation.

Hesitancy towards marriage and acceptance towards divorce

Compared to children of still-married parents, children of divorce are simultaneously more hesitant of marriage and more accepting of divorce if or when a marriage breaks down. These two go hand-in-hand and speak to someone who has experienced a parental divorce’s disbelief in the institution of marriage as a whole. Persons raised in divorced families may have heightened negative attitudes towards marriage, and be less likely to insist upon a lifelong marital commitment when the time comes. 

Attitudes towards marriage among children of divorced parents may depend on how old they were when the divorce happened. Adolescence seems to be the most challenging developmental period to experience parental divorce. One study cited that adolescents may believe marriage is both unpredictable and unstable if their parents have a messy separation during this already tumultuous period. 

Contrarily, suppose the divorce occurred when the child was very young. In that case, there is reason to believe that positive attitudes towards marriage and divorce would not be strongly impacted. 


Children of divorced marriage are more likely to live or enter into a domestic partnership with someone they love. Rather than commit to the institution of marriage, there may be a more profound desire to show a union in other ways. Particularly if their parents divorced during the teenage years, children are more likely to cohabitate with a partner more quickly. This can be both positive and negative. 

Often, young girls, in particular, move in with a partner to feel a sense of togetherness and dependency. This can be ultimately detrimental. However, there are also instances where children move out and cohabitate with a partner to avoid a negative home situation. This would be a more positive outcome. 

Likelihood of divorce

For decades, scientists and social scholars alike have investigated whether or not divorce runs in families. Anecdotally, it does seem like children with divorced parents are more likely to have a divorce themselves. One study even found that adults who experience parental divorce have chances of divorce 38 per cent higher than adults raised in still-married families. Interestingly, children of divorcee are 39% more likely to marry other children of divorce. In contrast, up to 59 per cent of individuals from still-married parents are likely never to undergo a divorce. There may be a sex difference, as daughters from divorced families divorce more than sons seem to. Risk of divorce is up to 76 per cent higher for daughters who have experienced divorce compared to daughters from still-married families. 

So what does this all mean?

It is fundamentally critical to note that these are not uniform outcomes. Numerous relationship experts and psychologists have warned against making too many general claims about what happens to children after a parental divorce. There are so many factors to consider when thinking about if and how witnessing a family divorce can impact long-term relationship development. 

There are also crucial steps that children of divorce can take in their lives to ensure the healthiest relationships for themselves. 

Several proactive measures include: 

  • Building self-esteem
  • Knowing that they are worth the upmost respect and care
  • Not ignoring warning signs
  • Being open to love despite the challenges it can inevitably bring 

Finally, a willingness to reflect can be beneficial. What were the main issues in my parents’ marriage? Where could they have communicated better? What can I do to learn from that experience? What would I have done differently if in their position? If you are a child of divorce and are struggling to develop meaningful relationships in adulthood, ask yourself these questions. There is so much love in the world to give and to receive. Marriage is by no means the only way to solidify a relationship. However, having experienced a parental divorce should not be a reason why you feel unable to marry if that is what you desire.

Don’t let fear and uncertainty take over. Our family law solicitors can help you reach the outcome you are seeking. 


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