The end of a marriage, for whatever reason, has a devastating effect on families. Not only do husbands and wives have to navigate their way through changes in finances, living situations and emotional stress, but those couples divorcing with children must take the well-being of their little ones into consideration as well.

Now a new report based on a decades-long study has found that children who experienced a divorce die on average five years earlier than those from homes where the parents stayed together.

While many of the short-term effects of divorce are well known, it has been difficult for researchers to pinpoint long-term effects. However, Lewis Terman, a psychologist from Stanford University began a study in 1921 that is providing results today about these effects.

In 1956, when Terman passed away, his research was taken over by Leslie R. Martin and Howard S. Friedman. The two psychologists titled their research "The Longevity Project."

Martin and Friedman compared the effects of divorce to the death of a parent, and discovered that children were more adversely effected by divorce.

According to a new article on the Longevity Project at PychologyToday.com, "parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death, many years into the future."

CFRMediation.com noted that while "parental divorce was a risk factor for premature death, however it is not an absolute." It also suggested that divorce has changed through the years and that support systems are adapting differently today than they used to.

While Martin and Friedman found that children of divorced parents died, on average, five years sooner than children from unbroken homes, they also concluded that "in families where the family environment is a distressed and unhappy one, 'staying married for the sake of the children is usually not a good idea…(it) is a greater risk factor to the child's longevity than divorcing,' " according to CFRMediation.com.

Though divorce can play a negative role in a child's long-term health, there are ways to buffer and limit the effects of that risk factor. When parents work together to create a safe and loving environment for their children they can decrease the short-term effects of divorce, which will in turn minimize the long-term effects, according to Anne P. Mitchell, a family law attorney.

Some short-term effects that children of divorce experience, researchers say, include "a sense of vulnerability as the family disintegrates, a grief reaction to the loss of the intact family, loss of the non-custodial parent, a feeling of intense anger (at) the disruption of the family, and strong feelings of powerlessness," according to www.ChildAdvocate.net.

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