Children almost inevitably suffer when their parents separate but research recently published by family lawyers’ group Resolution shows that the way the separation is handled rather than the separation itself is key to how children feel about it.
This is good news as it means that there are steps separating parents can take to minimise the upset caused to their children in these circumstances.
What steps can be taken?
- Sit down with children, preferably both parents together, and explain that you are separating and if applicable, divorcing, explain the situation and consequences so that the children understand where they will live, who they will live with, when they will see the other parent and suchlike. Whilst this step will not be easy for parents, it is certainly worthwhile for their children - the Resolution survey showed that 48% of children would have liked their parents to properly explain the consequences of divorce;
- Try to include children in decisions about life post-divorce. Whilst this will not always be appropriate, I expect that it will be appropriate in more than the 1 in 5 cases in which it happened according to the Resolution survey. Perhaps in all cases where children are of an age where they have a level of understanding, giving them the feeling that they have been involved in making decisions will be more beneficial than not doing so which is likely to result in them feeling they have had a decision imposed on them without their views having been heard. It is important, however, for children to know that parents will make the final decision and that it is not the children’s responsibility to decide everything;
- Resist the temptation to insult the other parent. This is what 30% of children surveyed by Resolution wanted to change about their parents’ divorce and is a common issue. My clients often inform me that their children have repeated comments the other parent has made about them; my advice is always that children should not be subject to hearing one parent insult the other; it is simply not in their best interests and actually can damage their relationship with both parents;
- Try to understand how children feel when they are caught in the middle of their parents’ separation. Considering the feelings of children when you are yourself hurting is easier said than done but if it can be achieved, the Resolution study suggests children will benefit from it – 30% of those asked what they would change about their parents’ divorce replied to say that they wanted their parents to understand their feelings. Even taking a moment to stop and consider your children and how they feel is likely to be helpful;
- Continue to support your children. This is another step which can be difficult when a parent’s life has been turned upside down and they are learning to adjust to being a single person as well as a single parent dealing with the demands of everyday life alone. It is therefore not surprising to hear that 1 in 3 children surveyed said that the level of support provided by their parents reduced during the divorce process. Parents may not appreciate that this is a common consequence of divorce and it is certainly worth bearing in mind, particularly for those parents whose children are around exam age;
- Reassure children about the family finances as 35% of the children surveyed said that they worried about money during their parents’ separation. Clearly divorce and separation does affect the family finances as the two incomes/one income which previously sustained one household will now have to sustain two. Nevertheless, children should be by both parents reassured that they will have somewhere to live and that there will be food on the table.
I fully appreciate that it can be tough to take these steps but hope that by highlighting them parents who are separating can try to find the strength and courage to take at least one, for their children’s sake. The price for not taking the steps above will be paid by your children.
If you are separating from your partner and would like advice about children matters, or divorce and finance, please feel free to contact me.
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