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January 17, 2013 Print

Reaching Out to the Children of Divorce

by Jeff Johnston

Every year about a million children in the U.S. live through the divorce of their parents. We’ve known for a while about the negative relational, social and economic impacts of divorce on children, but recently scholars have focused on the spiritual cost of divorce. Christianity teaches that when we put our confidence in Jesus, we become children of God; He is our Father. But as the Center for Marriage and Families (CMF) recently asked, “… [W]hat happens to children’s concept of a protective father if they do not know their own fathers?” And if a family is part of a congregation – a church family – what happens when the parents divorce? How does it impact the lives and faith of the children?

Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? is the new report – along with numerous other commissioned papers – where CMF examines and answers some of these questions. The report gives a clear, loud call to the church: We must reach out to and minister to children whose parents have divorced. Here are just a few of the findings from the project:

  • “… [W]hen children of divorce reach adulthood, compared to those who grew up in intact families, they feel less religious on the whole and are less likely to be involved in regular practice of faith.”
  • “… [O]f those young adults who regularly attended church or synagogue at the time of their parents’ divorce, two-thirds say that no one – neither from the clergy nor the congregation – reached out to them….”
  • Many children experience two disruptions, “the first being the rupture of their parents’ marriage, and the second being the rupture of the child’s connection to a congregation and even to a life of faith.”
  • So-called “good divorces” – where the marriage was low-conflict and the partners work to remain amicable after the divorce – lead to many of the same problems for the children involved.
  • As Andrew Root describes, divorce impacts many children at the very core of their being, “How can I be at all, now that the people who are responsible for my very being are no long together?”

The report is not without hope, thankfully, and includes a congregational plan and various recommendations: adult role models can make a difference and bring healing; divorced parents can still influence the faith of their children; congregations can be intentional about reaching out; and pastors and church leaders can create a climate of faith and healing. And not all children respond by moving away from their parents’ faith or changing their spirituality, a significant group is driven to seek God more deeply, to become more connected with the Father. May we help more to follow that path.


Read: Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? Challenging the Churches to Confront the Impact of Family Change

Focus on the Family: Marriage and Relationships – Strengthening Your Marriage and Helping Children Heal After Divorce 

Watch: Between Two Worlds: The Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce

Connect: Focus on the Family Counseling Services and Referrals