The Impact of Divorce on Academics

Shared custody may be best on a child's emotions, but academics may suffer.


Often a parent will ask me if their divorce is affecting their child’s academics, and, most of the time the answer is yes, especially when there is shared custody. 

I know, shared custody seems like the best thing for a child and, on an emotional level it may be, but that’s not my area. However, on an academic level, perhaps not so much. But, there are ways to avoid the pitfalls and make a difficult situation easier for everyone. 

I hear almost the identical story from a good number of my students with divorced parents. I ask why they didn’t do their homework. If they spent the previous night at their mom’s, they tell me they left it at their dad’s and vice versa. Where is your planner? Textbook? Directions for your research paper? Always the same answer.

Since the kids bounce around so much this seems to make sense. But does it?  When I hear this explanation, I always ask the same question, “Why isn’t it in your backpack?” The usual homework process is … open backpack, take out homework, do homework, put back in backpack, the end. 

It also seems that when the parents were married, one may have taken the role of making sure the child was doing everything they needed to do for school, while the other took on other roles, like cooking or watching basketball. However, when the child spends equal time with each parent, both parents become equally responsible for making sure the child studies and does homework. 

So, what are the pitfalls and how do we avoid them? Because I’m not an expert on this subject, I met with marriage and family therapists and facilitators of the upcoming divorce recovery seminar, “Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends,” Barbara Bennett, LMST and Dr. Carol Shilliday, Psy.D to get some professional advice. 

First, Barbara and Carol discussed the huge adjustment kids go through when parents divorce, such as bouncing between houses, which I already mentioned, and sometimes having to switch schools. They also said it is important to look at the underlying issues that might be causing the behaviors:

  • The stress from the divorce may cause parents to pay less attention to academics.
  • As time with the child becomes more limited, parents focus more on having “quality time” than dealing with the difficult stuff like fighting over homework.
  • Nobody wants to be the “bad guy,” so parents may become more lenient in hopes of easing the stress on the child.
  • Kids often feel a lack of control during divorce so they may play one off the other. This is where the “I left it at mom’s/dad’s” comes in.
  • Single parents have more responsibilities and don’t have the emotional energy to focus on schoolwork, so it’s easier for things to fall through the cracks.

Once parents recognize the issues they can begin to implement the steps to more effectively manage academics. 

Next week, I will offer more of Barbara and Carol’s advice and review their recommendations, so stay turned!

Barbara and Carol’s weekly workshop begins March 28 and is open to both men and women. For further information you may contact Barbara at 860-233-4321 or Carol at 860-967-8479. 

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

reader March 25, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Gee thanks for another helping of guilt in the divorce department.
Serene Skeptic March 26, 2012 at 12:10 PM
That would be your own guilt simmering to the top. The author of this story was dealing with facts and reality, not guilt. It's better to recognize the child's reality throughout the divorce process.
Subscriber March 26, 2012 at 02:35 PM
When parents co-parent well, the child of a divorce can excel. Being a teacher and a divorced parent, I see the good and bad results of a variety of parenting styles. I've had children from married parents who do not excel in school. How you choose to spend your time with your child and what you value as a parent has a profound affect on your child's outlook on life, school and themselves.


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