How does divorce and child custody decisions affect children? Studies have found a variety of results, and while some children seem to struggle with social an behavioral issues, future emotional and mental health problems, and trouble in school, other children are able to thrive regardless of whether their parents stay together.
Researchers have determined that some aspects of a child’s life in addition to their parents’ relationship – such as household income and inconsistent parenting – can affect their reaction to a divorce, especially if the parents have a contentious split or continue to have conflicts after the end of their marriage. New studies, however, are also considering that a child’s response to parental conflict and divorce might also have a genetic element.
Specifically, some children may have “protector” genes – a natural ability that makes them resistant to the affects of a tough family life or rough circumstances. Under this theory, two children who go through their parents’ divorce could have very different reactions and very different long-term consequences depending on their biological makeup.
A recent study of 1,000 Dutch teens found that children with certain dopamine genes were more likely to display antisocial behavior, depression, and aggressive responses following divorce. These children were also more likely to display similar behavior even if their parents remained married. The study suggests that while divorce can have a negative impact on a child’s mental health and social behavior, a child’s response to divorce can vary considerably, perhaps due to a genetic predisposition. At the same time, a child with certain genes may be likely to have similar issues as a child of divorce based on his or her genetic makeup.