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Divorce after seven has bigger effect on children, study suggests

Children whose parents divorce after their seventh birthday are more likely to have problems at school than younger children, according to new research.

Family stressor and children’s outcomes, from the government-funded Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre, sought to identify those sources of stress in family life which have the biggest effect on the welfare of children, as well as the ‘protective factors’ which help some children to succeed in spite of problems.

Stressful events considered included divorce, bereavement, family changes, domestic violence and illness.

According to the study, which was based on an analysis of existing research, divorce, seeing parents arguing and not seeing parents or sibling as much as usual all make children more likely to do worse at school and affect their general wellbeing – but only if they are aged seven or older when the events occur.

The study notes:

“Parental separation/divorce had negative associations with achievement at age 16 as well as emotional, behavioural and social wellbeing at age 13.  For wellbeing, these associations continued to be significant… Teenagers who experienced parental conflict also had lower test and exam scores and emotional, behavioural, and/or social wellbeing. Family separation, in terms of not seeing parents or siblings as much as usual, was also related to lower emotional, behavioural, and social wellbeing in early adolescence.”

But the situation is noticeably different with younger children, the report’s authors add:

“Interestingly, family separation, conflict and dissolution in early childhood (before age 7) were not related to worse outcomes in adolescence. This suggests that younger children are less affected by family problems than older children, who might be more able to remember their parents and siblings together and understand the implications more fully.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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