Children over age of seven more likely to suffer mental health problems following a divorce

According to the latest research children aged seven to fourteen are most likely to suffer problems with their mental health following parental divorce compared to other ages.

The study, which involved 6,245 children and young people in the UK, is the first study in Britain to examine the links between couple separation or divorce and the impact it has on the emotional and behavioural wellbeing of children.

Researchers from the University College London examined reports of children’s mental health at the ages of three, five, seven, 11 and 14, including emotional problems such as feelings of low mood and anxiety, and behavioural issues such as disobedience.

They compared the reports of those children whose parents had divorced with those whose parents had stayed together.

Children between the age of seven and fourteen whose parents split up were found to be 16 per cent more likely to suffer emotional problems such as anxiety and eight per cent more likely to experience behavioural problems, whilst children aged three to seven experienced no difference in the likelihood of mental health issues.

These findings suggest that a family breakdown when a child is younger has less of an impact on them compared to when they are old enough to understand what’s happening.

The research also found that despite increased emotional problems for both older boys and girls, the more severe behavioural issues were found in only boys.

Professor Emla Fitzsimons, who co-authored the study, said: “With adolescent mental ill-health a major concern nationally, there’s a pressing need to understand the causes.

“There are undoubtedly many factors at play – one possible reason for this is that children are more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age.

“Family break-ups may also be more disruptive to schooling and peer relationships at this stage of childhood.”

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell Turner Garrett in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.