YORK, England — When a married couple decides to call it quits, their children are at risk of suffering from mental health problems. But a new study finds that the brunt of divorce damage on a child actually stems from events before the actual split.

That’s because researchers determined watching parents fight can be most troublesome for kids.

Child holding her ears
A new study finds that children of divorce are more likely to suffer mental health problems — as a result of seeing their parents fight, not from the actual split.

The study, conducted at the University of York, involved 19,000 children born in the United Kingdom in 2000. Researchers focused on how divorce affected “non-cognitive” areas such as children’s behavior, socialization with friends, and any emotional scarring.

The team found children from divorced families are 30 percent more likely to suffer negative effects in those areas — as a result of seeing their parents argue in the period before the divorce.

They also showed a 20 percent dip in performance of cognitive skills, such as reading, memory, or attention. Those deficiencies, however, were linked to the education and financial situation of the parents.

“The main result of my research is that the fact that children of divorced parents have on average lower cognitive and non-cognitive skills compared with children of intact families is not necessarily due to divorce itself,” says Dr. Gloria Moroni, from the university’s department of economics, in a press release. “Most of the damage is given by pre-divorce circumstances and characteristics of the family.”

Moroni notes that parents who are less educated and are struggling financially may be at a greater risk of divorce — so children in homes where parents are having a hard time making ends meet are at a greater risk of feeling negative consequences, too.

“But on the other hand,” she says,” the non-cognitive gaps are mostly driven by the fact that parents who divorce have more conflictual relationships.”

Moroni hopes parents be more cognizant of how their actions can affect their children, and do their best to work together — no matter how hard it may be — to provide a loving home.

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  1. SusanDHarris says:

    I think divorce and pre-divorce can of course be bad for a child; as can parents fighting that don’t get a divorce. But generally I’d have to say just from living for a few decades and seeing a ton of different people and situations – these study results are absolute hogwash! And nope – I’m not divorced!