I’m Getting Divorced: How to Help Children Cope with Divorce and Separation

Clayton Miller

Clayton Miller
Founding Member Partner KMJ Solicitors

If you’re thinking of getting divorced, you’re not not alone.

With 42% of UK marriages ending in divorce, the UK has the highest divorce rate in Europe. Unfortunately, a high percentage of these divorces involve more than two people.

If you’re leaving your marriage and wondering what this means for your children, here’s a rundown of how to help your child cope, and what it means for their future.

Younger Children can Experience Greater Issues from Separation

The time between a child’s birth and when they turn six years old is crucial in terms of development.

During these years, it’s important that a child has contact with the people with whom he or she has formed a bond, usually the child’s parents.

If this relationship is disturbed, disrupted or removed entirely, it can cause problems later in life, such as an inability to form healthy and enduring romantic or personal relationships, or the lack of motivation to study and work.

There is probably no battle more destructive to a child than the battle over the time a child spends with both parents. While mediators and solicitors in family law can help to some extent, it is often hard for them to judge what is best for the child.

If the case is taken to court and it falls to the ruling of a judge, the decision may overly favour the father or the mother. If an amicable divorce is at all possible and parents can put aside their personal battles for the sake of their children, then often the child is far better off than losing most or all contact with one of their caregivers.

This being said, while divorce can be upsetting for children, researchers agree that a split is better for children in the long run than an unhappy marriage.

Children and Teenagers Require Different Treatment in Divorce

In studies on the development of children up until the age of six, research on the effects of separation on young children confirms that children can be harmed emotionally when separated from the parent with whom they have the primary attachment.

Help Children Cope with Divorce and SeparationWhen separated, the child often becomes anxious or distressed — the beginnings of what can become, for a small percentage of children, far more serious emotional problems in their adult life.

While a younger child can respond to a divorce by trying to get their parents back together, a common response among teenagers is to try and get back at the parents. Where a young child feels sadness, the adolescent manifests feelings of anger. A divorce can drive even more of a wedge between a teenager and their family than they already feel, and compel them further to break away.

Advice from a psychologist is to take advantage of the adolescent’s self-interest by giving them more responsibility, therefore giving them the feeling of the family relying on them, which counteracts the feeling of increased separation and independence from the family unit.

For younger children, it is important to observe and practice the 3 Rs to restore a child’s trust in the security of their family: Routines, Rituals, and Reassurance.

Divorce can Actually be Beneficial to Children

In this article in the Huffington Post, adults talk about the effect their parents’ divorce had on them, either as children or adults. Some of the most harmful things parents can do to their children in a divorce are badmouthing the other parent in front of the child and trying to get their children to choose a side.

However, some also said they felt a sense of relief after their parents divorced, and were happy to see their parents begin to thrive on their own.

In a 2002 study by Mavis Hetherington, it was found that many children experience anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief as some common short-term negative effects from divorce. After a year or two, however, these side-effects have reduced or completely disappeared, and it is only in a minority of cases that the negative after-effects of divorce continue long-term.

Handled well, the negative effects of divorce discussed above can in time fade, as opposed to causing the long-term damage that is also a risk.

If there has been a lot of conflict before and during a divorce, there is little doubt from researchers that divorce is beneficial for children. In a 1985 study, Hetherington found that a high level of conflict before the split can help children to adjust to the split itself.

By contrast, when the conflict before a divorce is much less, the child is more unprepared and therefore might find it harder to adjust. If the child is from a high-discord family, then the divorce may be a welcome relief from their parents’ fighting.

What Difference can a Good Divorce Lawyer Make?

The right divorce lawyer can make all the difference in a divorce, whether you’re faced with a battle over the children, a disagreement over assets, or even an amicable but unsure divorce where you’re not sure how to proceed.

Divorce lawyers will have handled many cases involving children, so it’s important to find one that suits the needs of you and your children.

If you’re based in London, for instance, make sure you hunt through the best divorce lawyers in London until you find the right one, rather than settling. A good divorce lawyer in London will be able to advise on separation of assets, as well as how to divide childcare between two households instead of one.

The best divorce lawyers in London, or in other parts of the UK, will also be able to advise on foreign marriages if one partner wishes to move away.

In such situations, complications can arise about how to handle childcare, as courts can be reluctant to sanction relocation to another country with a child. This reluctance can seriously impact their relationship with the parent in the original country.

Whatever the situation, whether you’re considering or undergoing a divorce, an experienced solicitor for your divorce can make not only your life much easier but also the lives of your children.

About Clayton

Clayton Miller is a founding member partner of KMJ Solicitors, a highly sought-after family law firm in London.

Legal 500 describe Clayton as being especially able to “assimilate and master the details of complex financial cases and keep on top of them”.

Clayton is dual qualified in both Australia and the UK and is a member of the dual-qualified Family Lawyers and International Bar Association. He has over fifteen years of experience as a family law specialist, including divorce and separation as well as offshore trusts, prenuptial agreements and cohabitation law.


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