"Only God decides": young children's perceptions of divorce and the legal system

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999 Dec;38(12):1544-50. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199912000-00016.


Objective: To describe research on perceptions of children aged 6 and younger from 21 families of their parents' divorce, of its impact on their families, and of legal officials.

Method: Semistructured play interviews were conducted during home visits as parents were conjointly interviewed as part of a larger study on divorce in legal context.

Results: Children had much mis-information about divorce as an event and process. What they did know was often inappropriate, frightening, and confusing. They resented how the process "ruined their parents' being friends any more" and proposed reforms based on their wishes and observations.

Conclusions: Greater awareness is needed of the child's desire to be heard during the process, to feel safe and less lonely, and to stay in touch with both parents and extended families. Age-appropriate explanations of psychological and legal aspects of the divorce process are likely to support children's positive adjustment and mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Divorce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Psychology, Child
  • Social Adjustment
  • Social Perception*