Should a Couple Stay Together for the Kids?

As a psychologist and a family mediator, I can say with confidence that what is best for one set of kids will not match what is best for another set of kids. Worse yet, what is best for one child may be different from what is best for another child in the same family.

When divorce was socially unacceptable, unhappy couples routinely tried to stay together, especially if they had kids. Now, almost half of marriages end in divorce. What does that mean for the kids? 

If there are minor children, divorce ordinarily does long-lasting emotional and financial damage to all members of the family. Sometimes it is the best choice anyway, because continuing a bad marriage can be unhealthy for the kids as well as the parents. 

Most kids would prefer for their parents to stay married. My kids were angry at me for years because my ex and I could not find a way to tolerate staying together. Their lives would have been much worse if we had stayed together, but they could not see that. After we divorced, we were able to stop fighting and able to cooperate as parents. Later, each of us married a better life partner, so the kids also got to see what healthy marriages look like. For us, it turned out, divorce was the right choice. For other families, it might not be. 

When parents can learn to interact with love, respect, and good communication, their children are likely to thrive. If the parents can stay together without too much anger, unhappiness, or pain in their relationship, that may be better for the kids than a divorce would be. When children are involved, perhaps it its only when the marriage is clearly damaging to one or both parents that the spouses should divorce. Having two calm households will usually be better for the kids than living in one house that is full of tension, hostility, and/or abuse. 

Another factor to consider is what is likely to happen after the divorce. Will one parent remarry, have more children, and then use his or her financial resources and time to care for those children, to the detriment of children from the first marriage? Kids do need both financial support and love. 

Obviously, divorce will not solve everything. If the parents keep fighting, divorced or still together, it’s going to be awful for the kids. If you must divorce, let the kids have as good a relationship as they can with your ex, and make good use of community resources to help yourself and your kids heal. 

If you decide to divorce, how you do it can make a big difference for your kids. Try mediation in preference to an adversarial approach. You will probably save thousands of dollars and spare everybody a lot of pain and anxiety. 

The decision about whether to divorce is rarely easy. 

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Virginia Colin
Virginia L. Colin, Ph.D, is a professional family mediator and the Director of Colin Family Mediation Group LLC. Formerly a research psychologist and an Internet talk radio show host, she has been providing family mediation services since 1999. She specializes in helping couples and ex-couples develop co-parenting plans and financial agreements that support their children’s healthy development and their own well-being. She has helped hundreds of couples negotiate the terms of their divorces. Having survived a nightmarish divorce, Dr. Colin actively supports divorce reform efforts, helping people take a lot of the pain, financial cost, acrimony, and trauma out of divorce. Dr. Colin has written two books: Human Attachment (1996), a comprehensive guide to attachment theory and research, and, with Rebecca Martin, The Guide to Low-Cost Divorce in Virginia (2014). She is a former President of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators. For a free consultation with Dr. Colin, email