In the second of the series RB’s Family Department’ Nigel Winter looks at the effects of divorce/separation upon children. You can find the first part here.
There are many terrible dilemmas that face anyone contemplating divorce or separation.
One of the most significant is the impact upon children.
One would simply not be human if you fail to consider their wishes and what was in your children’s’ best interests.
Furthermore the impact of divorce according to “research” (whether you accept it or not) is cause for concern. The incidences of failed relationships, under achievement etc. are startling.
Notwithstanding all of the above some 82% of children and adolescents polled in a recent survey have stated that they would prefer their parents to divorce rather than stay in a marriage that was unhappy.
Although parents understandably stay together “for the sake of the children” those said “children” can be alarmingly wise and they will realise sooner or later that their parents’ relationship is on poor terms.
This article is not therefore about advising people what they should do. It is simply about giving them some of the surprising facts about how our children feel and then leaving parents to go away and reflect on this.
However it appears that the case of staying together “for the children”, whilst founded on the best of intentions doesn’t necessarily serve the children’s’ interest.
Therefore, if a couple are to divorce there may be some “golden rules” in conducting that divorce with your children in mind.
It is also clear that when divorce is carried out properly children can manage very well. However there are a number of “pitfalls” that are to be avoided. Some of these take a great deal of patience but are very much in the children’s’ interest.
Step 1 – Be respectful to the other parent.
It is a fact that children love both their parents but can’t understand why they don’t necessarily love each other anymore.
Thus, if you bring your ex’s faults to their attention, however careful the language you use, this will be unpleasant for them. Children often feel the need to defend the parent being berated and therefore feel uncomfortable “taking sides”.
Difficult as it may be, put yourself in your children’s’ position and recall how in your childhood you loved both your parents.
Step 2 – Avoid misplaced resentment.
Research has shown that in particularly nasty divorces a resentment that their parties have towards their ex can be transferred to their children.
This is particularly so where the children have a similar personality trait to the ex i.e. one party is punctual or particularly tidy, the other less so. This is not your ex you see manifested in your child but your child: it’s part of their makeup.
Step 3 – Avoid using children as a “pawn”.
The instinct to “wreak havoc” once a relationship is over may be understandable. Children present every opportunity to be a vehicle for doing so.
Disagreements over contact, joint holidays, meeting the new partner, and even maintenance can all be conveyed through a child.
They should not be! These are matters that should be communicated directly or through lawyers.
Furthermore ’children being children’, they can in some circumstances know how to “play one off against the other”. Some children going through divorce get two birthday parties which both parents trying to over-impress with more expensive presents etc.
At a very early age the children will move from exploiting the situation to realising how harmful it is. Parents should resort to a parenting plan and mediation over these issues.
Step 4 – Treat special events with the respect they deserve.
Children are often desperate for their parents to see them at the school sports day, performing at plays etc. They will often want both parents to attend for these milestones.
If you still feel “raw” about a separation, remember that a child may recall that day for the rest of their lives and long after you have moved on. You may have to “fake it” but in the fullness of time they will be grateful to you for that.
Step 5 Work together and be seen to work together.
You will always be the parents of your children. Big decisions like education and medical treatment will have to be taken together.
Furthermore, in an all too brief period of time there will be graduations, wedding ceremonies and ultimately christenings. If you and your ex can get together for these events without your children being ‘on edge’ then you will have served their best interests.
Remember you are still a family – you just happen to be one in which the parents are no longer together.
You will have to function as a family on that basis and this can be very rewarding for all concerned. Indeed Relate even assist families on the post- divorce situation. In doing so they listen to the parents and also to the children. This will help everyone “move on” without doing so through a Court of law!
It is unlikely that a family going through divorce are where they want to be. However you can either make the best of the situation or the worse.
Nigel C Winter is a partner in the Family Department of Rawlison Butler Solicitors, based in the South East of England. He has been practicing family law for over two decades, is a collaborative lawyer and a regular contributor to a wide variety of publications on Divorce and Family Law.
He has been practicing family law for over 2 decades, is a Collaborative lawyer and a regular contributor to a wide variety of publications on divorce and family law.
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