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The Effect of Divorce on High School Dropout Rates

Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
Posted on Jul 14, 2010

A Seattle divorce lawyer explains the link between divorce and high school dropouts.In 2009, a research project identified correlations between major changes in family structure and high school completion. Researchers encapsulated their findings in “Family Structure Histories and High School Completion: Evidence from a Population-based Registry,” published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology.

Key Finding: Divorce Impacts Dropout Rates

The study tracked nearly 10,000 children from 1984 who were born to, or adopted by, two-parent families, and reviewed the family structure histories for each child until adulthood. Researchers found that major disruptions in family structure negatively impact the likelihood of graduation for children.

Family disruptions were identified as such.

  • Divorce

  • Remarriage

  • Death of a parent

“[C]hildren who experienced marital dissolution before the age of 18 were significantly less likely to complete high school than children in intact households,” stated the researchers.

Below are a few of the study’s highlights.

  • Marital disruption occurred in roughly 20 percent of the families, and four percent of children experienced more than one major change, e.g., two divorces.

  • While more than 78 percent of those in two-parent households graduated from high school by age 20, only 60 percent of those who went through a big family change graduated in the same amount of time.

  • The younger a child is when a divorce occurs, the more likely it can impact the child.

When Divorce May Be Beneficial

The study cautioned against making the generalization that divorce has negative outcomes for children in all situations. There are circumstances in which divorce can be beneficial for kids and have positive ramifications. When separating means moving a child away from an abusive parent, divorce is preferable to staying together.

The study concluded, “Until researchers know more about the quality of family life within different family types, it would be premature to conclude that marital disruption necessarily jeopardizes children’s life chances. Indeed, prior research suggests that, in families that are highly dysfunctional, divorce represents escape from a toxic environment that leads to improvements in child well-being.”

Collaborative Post-Divorce Co-Parenting

Despite all good efforts, dissolution simply cannot be avoided in some situations. When reconciliation isn’t feasible, parents can help their children transition by doing their best to co-parent. The First International Conference on Shared Parenting holds that shared parenting is the “optimal arrangement for the majority of children of divorce, and in their best interests.”

Children of divorce can still grow up healthy, happy, and adjusted; they can graduate high school, and go on to have wonderful lives. Mindful post-divorce parenting can help make this a reality.

Helpguide.org echoes this philosophy and explains that kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship experience these benefits.

  • Feel secure

  • Benefit from consistency

  • Develop problem-solving skills

  • Have a healthy example of cooperation

When You Need a Caring Attorney during a Divorce

Molly B. Kenny handles issues across a wide breadth of divorce and separation legal needs. Our firm offers mediation services, handles divorces, and can help develop a parenting plan in your child’s interests. Call Molly B. Kenny for divorce issues (425) 460-0550.