The Lingering Effect of Divorce on Children’s Religious Beliefs

Getting a divorce or separation is painful. In such times of sadness, many people turn to their religion to find support and solace. But a recent report on families and faith suggests that young adults whose parents have divorced are less likely to affiliate with a formal religion today.

The study, “Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith?” from the Institute for American Values in New York City, examined whether churches have given enough attention to the spiritual experience of children who grow up with unmarried parents. They found that young adults who were children of divorce generally feel less religious than those who grew up in two-parent households, and that they feel less urgency to actively commit to a practicing faith.

Church Response to Family Changes: A Call for Inclusion

Among other findings:

  • Two-thirds of young people who grew up in married families report feeling very or fairly religious, but just over half of those from divorced families expressed the same sentiment.
  • One-third of people from married households attend church services almost weekly, compared to only 25 percent of those with divorced parents.

According to the study’s lead author, Elizabeth Marquardt, there could be several reasons why children of divorce tend to carve out a spiritual, yet not specifically religious, identity. Some reported not feeling understood in church when their parents were divorcing, or simply feeling abandoned.

“When death happens, people gather in support,” Marquardt told the Deseret News. “When divorce happens, people flee. These aren’t bad people, but people who don’t know what to say or what to do, and so they don’t say or do anything.”

Support Networks: Beyond the Church Walls

Researchers also found that religiosity did not seem impacted by whether the divorce was amicable or ugly. Overall, young adults from so-called “good” divorces were still less involved in religion than those raised in happy marriages.

Granted, the results were not universal. In some cases, grown children of divorce actually report being more religious than their parents ever were. But the study authors concluded that churches need to pay more attention to the changing family landscape in America today so that they don’t lose young people at times when they could be a great source of support.

Many places of worship now offer support groups for families who are going through a divorce. However, there are also community support groups that provide help for families without a religious affiliation. Although there is no 100 percent guarantee that these groups will help you resolve the complicated feelings of divorce, they at least establish a support network of people who are going through the same experience and may make you feel less alone.


Charles Ullman & Associates provides you respected, experienced and knowledgeable divorce and family law attorneys. You can trust us to help you through the legal process efficiently and effectively so you can transition to the next phase of your life. Our community involvement reaches beyond charitable support of important causes. We launched our own movement in Fraternities4Family and provide scholarships to able students in need.