Gerald Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center concluded that “[p]oor social skills, characterized by aversive or coercive interaction styles, lead directly to rejection by normal peers.”1) Fear of such peer rejection is twice as likely among adolescents of divorced parents.2) Their social relations are likely to be damaged in several ways3) and characterized by more problems relating to peers,4) fewer childhood friends, and a greater tendency to complain about lack of peer support.5) Kent State University faculty members conducted a major national study on the effects of divorce in 1987. The study found that, compared to children from intact families, children of divorced parents did worse when rated by both parents and teachers on peer relationships, hostility towards adults, anxiety, withdrawal, inattention, and aggression.6) A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology reiterated these findings.7)
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents score higher on the social development scale (50.8) than children who live within other family configurations.8) (See Chart Below)
A variety of psychological outcomes are associated with parental divorce that lead to vulnerability in some children and resiliency in others.9) According to one study, child antisocial behavior decreases after the dissolution of marriages in highly dysfunctional families,10) and “the higher the level of family dysfunction prior to divorce, the greater the reduction in child antisocial behavior after the divorce.”11) Nevertheless, children whose parents divorce will exhibit more anxiety and depression and antisocial behavior than children from intact families.12)
Children who experience divorce at any age will continue to be affected their whole lives, tending to “exhibit higher malaise scores at age 33 than their contemporaries whose parents remained married.”13)
Children of divorced or separated parents exhibit increased behavioral problems,14) and the marital conflict that accompanies parents’ divorce places the child’s social competence at risk. Studies indicate that divorce contributes to an increased risk for a wide facet of undesirable behaviors, including an inability to handle conflict, promiscuity, difficulty in school, increased crime rates, increased drug and alcohol use, and increased rates of suicide.