Children whose parents separate are likely to suffer “enduring” problems with their education, mental health and future relationships, a Government-commissioned report reveals.
Children whose parents divorce are twice as likely to become divorced themselves as adults, the report says.
Girls are often hit by the consequences of their parents’ separation later in life, experiencing more anxiety and depression as adults than their male counterparts, the study found.
Behavioural problems, gaining fewer educational qualifications, needing more medical treatment, becoming pregnant at an early age and turning to drugs, alcohol or smoking, were all among the possible negative consequences named in the report.
Academics at the Institute of Education reviewed an extensive list of existing research for the report, which was commissioned by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls.
They looked at the impact of family breakdown, and factors often associated with it such as repeated family transitions, poverty and parental mental health, on the wellbeing of children.
“Adults who had experienced parental separation in childhood had a higher probability of problems which included mental health and well-being, alcohol use, lower educational attainment and problems with relationships”, the authors found.
Lone parent families – which account for almost a quarter of all dependent children –”tend to be more disadvantaged in terms of poverty and health”, according to the report.
Divorce is the “main route into lone parenthood”, the report says, “whilst the rise in births to cohabiting mothers has made an important contribution because of the higher rate of breakdown in relationships within this group”.
A recent survey of 2,000 adults who had experienced divorce as a child found that a third had sought solace in alcohol or drugs, while eight per cent had considered suicide.
A survey of children aged under ten last year found that the thing they would most want to ban if they ruled the world was divorce.
Leading family lawyer Mr Justice Coleridge warned last month that an “epidemic” of family breakdown was ‘infecting’ children.
He said a documentary he was involved with, about what went on in the family courts, had been deemed ‘too dark’ for prime time by the BBC and pushed to a later time slot.
Mr Justice Coleridge warned: “There is a tendency, especially among the chattering classes, to assume that we have attained a social utopia, in which we are entirely and happily free from taboos, stigmas and other constraints on behaviour. It sounds so beguiling: let us all do what we want, when we want and sort out any mess as we go along.
“But surely the test of any social change is whether it enhances people’s lives or makes them more miserable. And this is where I take issue with the modern view of the family. If it is so successful, why are the statistics for separation so large?
“More significantly, why are the family courts overwhelmed with cases involving damaged, miserable or disturbed children? How do other children, caught up in less serious separations, really feel? Do they relish the endless changes of partner, or adapting to a new step-parent and step-siblings?”