Psychosocial adjustment and physical health in children of divorce

J Pediatr (Rio J). 2009 Sep-Oct;85(5):385-96. doi: 10.2223/JPED.1925.
[Article in English, Portuguese]


Objective: To review the literature on the effects of parental divorce over the psychological maladjustment and physical health problems in children of divorced parents, thus contributing to the integration of existing scientific knowledge based on the biopsychosocial model of the impact of divorce on children's physical health as proposed by Troxel and Matthews (2004).

Sources: Review of the literature using MEDLINE and PsycInfo (1980-2007) databases, selecting the most representative articles on the subject. Special attention was paid to contributions by internationally renowned investigators on the subject.

Summary of the findings: Divorce may be responsible for a decline of physical and psychological health in children. The developmental maladjustment of children is not triggered by divorce itself, but rather by other risk factors associated with it, such as interparental conflict, parental psychopathology, decline in socio-economic level, inconsistency in parenting styles, a parallel and conflicting co-parenting relationship between parents and low levels of social support. Such risk factors trigger maladjusted developmental pathways, marked by psychopathological symptoms, poor academic performance, worst levels of physical health, risk behavior, exacerbated psychophysiological responses to stress and weakening of the immune system.

Conclusions: Clear links were observed between experiencing parental divorce and facing problems of physical and psychological maladjustment in children. Divorce is a stressor that should be considered by health professionals as potentially responsible for maladjusted neuropsychobiological responses and for decline in children's physical health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Development
  • Divorce / psychology*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors