Studies Highlight Impact of Parental Divorce on College Students


  • Studies showed a greater impact on women in studies examining parental divorce on college students.
  • The father-daughter relationship was affected greater in the psychological separation process.
  • With children being away at school, the adjustment to the new family dynamic requires viewing them differently.

Parental divorce can be difficult on a child, regardless of their age. The older they may get, the more they may be able to fully understand the reasoning behind why the relationship did not function the way it should have, but no matter what the age may be, the idea that their parents will no longer be together cannot be easy on them.

One of the more developmentally pressing ages is during the college years.

The college years can be an influential time for an attending individual. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, higher education has always stressed the development of the ‘whole student’ along several dimensions, including intellectual, physical, social, civic, moral, and spiritual. They develop their spirits, bodies, and minds simultaneously, and they grow up using their hands, hearts and heads.

When parents get a divorce during those years, it can have an impact on the college-age development, according to research.

The studies

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder examined the effects of parental divorce among college undergraduates in their study, which were published by the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. After examining children of parents who were either in intact marriages or divorced after the student was five years old, they found that the women of the study were more adversely affected by a parental divorce than men.

Studies published in the Journal of Divorce measured the relationship of parental divorce to college student development and corroborated many of the findings from the studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. College-age women were more affected than college-age men.

Effects on father-daughter relationships

The biggest effects came from how the college-age women treated their fathers. They found that all college-age children from non-intact homes reported significantly greater functional, emotional, and attitudinal independence from their fathers. They found that the psychological separation process of parents and children were accelerated in most forms of the father-daughter relationship.

They also found that they experienced greater anger, conflict, and guilt in their relationships with their fathers than the college students measured, who had not experienced a parental divorce.

With much of residual resentment and blame resting with the fathers, it has caused friction within the relationships of college-age children of both genders. The impact of the parental divorce is not uniform and does not affect every college-age individual the same. It also requires parents viewing their child a little differently as well.

Different points of view

Professor Frederick G. Lopez, of the University of Houston, found in his studies, published by the Journal of Counseling and Development, that understanding the impact of a parental divorce on a college student requires a new perspective that views the student as embedded within the larger contexts of both the family and college environment, as they confront the normative tasks of their developmental period.

With the entire family being thrusted into a period of adjustment and instability in a time when a college student already is living with the instability of having to go from the college environment to the home environment and back over a period of several years, the impact will be felt in their development. The stabilization of the familial concept will require time and will require a special emphasis being placed on the college student’s adjustment to the post-divorce sociocultural contexts, the financial repercussions of the divorce, geographical changes, and visitation conflicts.

New dynamic

Helping a college age student adjust to the family dynamics and situation will give them a better opportunity to maintain a healthier relationship with both parents. This is especially important for college-age children who may have gone out-of-state for their college education and are rarely able to visit their families.

They require constant attention and communication, given the fact that the world that they left behind no longer exists in the same way that it once did. They need to be made aware what is going on, as it pertains to custody and co-parenting.

However, it would be inappropriate for co-parents to use the child to speak ill of the other parent. They also are not a carrier pigeon, meant for sending messages to and from co-parents. They are your child, and while you may harbor some ill will and mixed feelings toward an ex-spouse, your child, whether they are college-age or toddler-age, should not be the sounding board you use to vent your frustrations.

While you child may be an adult in college now, they still are the child to two parents who love and care for them very much. Conversely, your child still loves their parents very much, even if the parents are no longer together. This is something necessary to keep in mind, as the divorce experience proceeds and passes, leaving all parties to figure out where they fit moving forward.

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