Divorce & Adverse Childhood Experiences: What You Need To Know

by | May 6, 2024 | Divorce

According to a major study by CDC-Kaiser Permanente in the 1990s, going through a divorce is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE), which is linked to significant health complications in later life.

To a parent who is currently going through a divorce, this news may be frightening. In fact, you may be seeking a divorce specifically to avoid exposing your children to a severe adverse childhood experience, such as abuse or neglect.

As a parent, it’s natural (and normal) to worry about our children. Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the long term effects of divorce and ensure that your kids are able to lead happy, successful lives.

This being said, it’s important to fully understand the risks so that you can recognize signs of an ACE and be intentional about supporting your children.


What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adverse childhood experiences are potentially traumatic events that occur before the age of 18.

There is no simple definition of what constitutes an adverse childhood experience, but common ones include:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Poverty and/or homelessness
  • Substance abuse by a family member
  • Mental illness in a family member
  • Incarcerated family member
  • Parental separation or divorce

According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an estimated 64% of adults have experienced at least one ACE as a child, and more than 25% experienced three or more.

sad young girl hugging teddy bear as parents argue

Consequences Of ACEs

In addition to their emotional impact, ACEs can have real-life implications to public health. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente study found that adults with a high ACE score tend to be at high risk for chronic health problems later in life.

Experiencing toxic stress can negatively impact children’s brain development, stress response system, and immune system, leading to such health conditions as:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease (such as asthma and COPD)
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Substance abuse
  • Stroke


ACEs and Divorce

When compared to such traumatic events as abuse and neglect, it can be hard to see divorce as harmful. However, it’s important to remember that children don’t have the experience to be able to put things into perspective the way adults can.

For instance, you may feel ambivalent or even relieved about your divorce. But for your child—who is merely an observer to your relationship—divorce can cause them to feel confused, worried, or even guilty. The uncertainty and stress of a changing household can be very overwhelming!

We’re not providing this information to scare you! It’s important to remember that every child goes through divorce differently and there is no guarantee that your child will experience divorce as an ACE in the long run.

In fact, once they reach adulthood, children of divorce usually point to parental stress and conflict as the source of their ACE rather than the divorce itself. A recent British study even found that 82% of teens would rather their parents get divorced than “stay together for the kids.”

father hugging young daughter

How To Mitigate ACEs During Divorce

The good news is that it’s possible to minimize the effects of divorce on your children.

The CDC study found that “creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full potential.”

In other words, the best way to prevent your divorce turning into an adverse childhood experience is to put your children’s emotions and needs first.

For starters, talk to your spouse about pursuing an amicable and/or uncontested divorce. Reducing conflict between the two of you will go a long way toward helping your child(ren) feel calm and supported. If this seems too difficult, using a family communication tool like OurFamilyWizard may help.

If there are no concerns about safety, pursue joint custody. Spending equal time with two parents who love them is the best way to ensure that your children feel equally supported and loved by their parents.

Finally, look out for the warning signs that your child may be having difficulties coping with the divorce and get family therapy, if necessary. A mental health professional can give your children valuable tools needed to cope with the divorce as well as build skills (like resilience and emotional regulation) that will help them later in life.


Putting Your Children First

If you’re currently facing a divorce, we want you to know that it’s completely normal to worry about the effects that this major change will have on your children. In fact, that worry is what makes you a good parent!

At Leap Frog Divorce, we do whatever it takes to support our clients in this mission. Throughout your divorce, our attorneys will always put you and your children’s needs first—not our own.

As Florida Supreme Court certified family mediators who also specialize in amicable divorce, our focus is on finding a solution that works the best for your family in the long-term. This means neither fanning the flames of conflict or settling preemptively. Our approach is 100% customized to your needs.

Contact our office today to schedule a consultation and find out how we can help take the stress out of divorce.

Arthur J. Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

Arthur J. Grossman J.D., LL.M., Esq

AJ Grossman graduated at the top of his Florida law school class, has been trained in Collaborative Divorce, has a Master of Laws degree in Dispute Resolution, and is a Barrister member of the invite-only Central Florida Family Law Inn of Court. His aggressive advocacy on behalf of his clients provides hope and reassurance throughout challenging divorces.


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