Do Children Do Better When Their Parents Are Married But Fight or Divorced?

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When a marriage isn’t faring well, you may be experiencing significant conflict with your spouse. As you consider the future for your family, it’s common to have questions. You may wonder whether it’s better for children if you maintain the marriage – conflict and all – or whether divorce would be the better option.

Level of Marital Conflict

If the level of marital conflict is minimal, continuing the marriage may be in your children’s best interests, according to Paul R. Amato, professor of sociology and demography with the Pennsylvania State University. In this case, it’s possible that the children may experience more risk if a marriage with little conflict ends in divorce. Conversely, marriages with high levels of conflict may place children at a higher risk than any damage done to them by divorce.

How Conflict Harms

A continual barrage of conflict in the home environment can have a negative impact on children, states Kathy Eugster, a registered clinical counselor and play therapist. The hostility and bitterness, going on without resolution, creates instability and stress for the family. Children may experience feelings of anxiety, fear and helplessness. Children may even have fears about their physical safety, whether or not physical violence occurs during parental conflicts.

Post-Divorce Conflict

If the level of conflict continues or even escalates after divorce, children may be at continued risk, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. When parents continue strife and hostility, often with children in the middle, children may experience depression, guilt, resentment, grief, anger and embarrassment. On the other hand, if parents proceed through divorce and onward without conflicts, children can adjust and grow positively.


When a low-conflict marriage ends in divorce, the situation may be more difficult for children because it surprises them . The absence of fighting and hostility in parents may give children the impression that all is well, so when the divorce happens children have a hard time adjusting and understanding.

Bottom Line

The most negative and damaging environment for children – regardless of whether parents stay married or divorce – is the ongoing hostility and conflict. If parents can remain married with low levels of conflict, this may be beneficial for children. If problems increase and parents do decide to divorce, it may not resolve the conflict. If conflict continues even after divorce, the damage continues. Whether parents continue a marriage or decide to divorce, the goal must be to limit the amount and intensity of hostility between parents.