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Helping your children through divorce

If there is one aspect of family life that changed more than any other in the last half century, it is divorce. The D word has been transformed by decades of social change from scandalous rarity to something almost routine and every day. But while divorce has lost its power to shock, it has not lost its power to sadden. And children remain the innocent bystanders in every split.

The number of children who experienced their parents divorcing represents a disturbing legacy for society. We hope these children will be able to form stable, long-term relationships of their own in the future, even after seeing their parents fight, scream and cry. Such children will feel upset and uncertain about what the future holds, and many are left feeling torn in their loyalty to both parents.

Children are sharp and sensitive to their surroundings. Even if Mum and Dad save the crockery-throwing and accusations of intolerable behaviour for those times when the kids are out of the house, they will soon realise that all is not well. But there is much you can do as a parent to help them through difficult times and minimise the bad memories.

Telling your children that the family is breaking up will be one of the hardest things that you will ever have to do – hopefully! Whatever you do and however you do it, make it very clear that you both love the children, that it is not their fault the relationship is over and that they are not “leaving” either parent.

Other key dos ad don’ts:

Don’t involve the children in any rows. They may already feel that the break-up is somehow their fault – don’t make them feel worse by dragging them into the middle of the animosity.

Do give constant reassurance to your children that they are not to blame, that they are still loved by both parents and that this will remain the case, whatever may happen in the future.

Don’t put any pressure upon your children to take sides, however angry and in the right you may feel. Doing so borders on abuse. Most children feel a strong sense of  loyalty to both their parents and trying to interfere with that can leave them scarred and confused.

Do present a united front with the other parent in all discussions and decisions involving the children – even if you can only do so through gritted teeth. Kids may be very distressed and disturbed if they discover  that their parents are arguing over their future.

Don’t put pressure on younger children to make decisions about their own care.  By all means take their feelings into account, but don’t expect them to choose.

Do encourage your children to express their opinions and feelings. Some children feel unable to do so, afraid that they will upset Mum or Dad. But bottled-up resentment and unhappiness will keep them from moving on.

Do remember that divorce is just as frightening and bewildering for the children as it is for you. So keep them up-to-date with events and be honest with them up to a point – without burdening them with the ugly details. Children are usually tempted to try to push their parents back together. This rarely works out, and it will be easier for them to come to terms with their family breakdown if they have some idea of the reasons behind it.

Don’t tell your children about the other parent’s misdemeanours. Just tell them that Mummy and Daddy are no longer happy living together.

Do set boundaries.  Successful boundaries, along with respect for the other parent, will benefit everyone. Don’t interfere when it is your former partner’s turn to care for the kids – but equally, don’t permit your former partner to encroach on your space. Try your very best to respect the other’s choices and personal parenting styles – even if they are different to yours.

Of course none of this is a panacea. Unless you are very lucky, there will still be some tears and turmoil. But children are resilient, and as long as they feel safe and settled they will cope and learn to accept their new lives.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. KC, Cheshire says:

    No one (normal) plans for divorce (although they say one now should in case the unthinkable does occur). Husband & Wife regardless of fault or blame go through incredible stress, heartbreak and uncertainty and that’s those without Children to consider.

    Children’s once perfect world is shattered right before their very eyes when their Mother & Father separate. It is absolutely imperative therefore that “both” parents put their self-interest to one side and help and support their off-spring through this tumultuous time. Easier said than done i hear you say, but warring parents need to wake up and realise (or be told) that failure to cooperate for the Children’s sake could cause long lasting damage to your loved ones long after the dust has settled! Children could develop resentment, personality imperfections, insecurities and so on.

    Whilst you’re both busy counting (losses or gains) and keeping score of who has come out on top post-Divorce proceedings your kids may have been inflicted with scars that may not ever heal.

    Let’s be honest there are mediators, agencies and other support groups who may be able to help in these matters but in the midst of battle and bitterness do warring parents really care about protecting and conceding for the sake of their beautiful and blameless souls?

    Wish i could honestly say yes. Question of upbringing and adopted childhood psyche and experience i fear. Not to mention the circle of people we call our “family and friends” that we feel our representing our best interest but in reality they don’t.

    For many, it maybe too late when you “wake-up and smell the coffee”..

    There’s no substitute for education of ethics and values – and the earlier it is taught to the kids the better placed they will be to cope with all that Life throws at them. And just maybe the grown-ups could do with a refresher course!

    We come with nothing and we go with nothing so why not try being a good soul in between regardless of what anyone throws at you? (rhetorical question) It may sound idealistic but all you need is positivity and a spoonful of courage and conviction (oh and access to the kids would be nice 😉

  2. Anonymous says:

    We can spout this feel-good advice till we are blue in the face, but the fact of the matter is that there are several pro-single-parent ideologues that have a lot of power and have done an excellent job of convincing everyone that men are bad, and we’ve got a system that criminalizes dads and makes them pay maintenance for the shame of alternate-weekend contact. And we are told that 2 days a fortnight is sufficient because any more time with dad is dangerous.

    As good advice as it is, it falls on deaf ears when we have a legal system that manufactures the very conflict that we like to say is harmful to children.

  3. Stitchedup says:

    The Government and the family court judges need to get their heads out of their asses pretty damn quick. The whole process of divorce and separation is decimating the very fabric of our society. As Anonymous has posted:

    “pro-single-parent ideologues that have a lot of power and have done an excellent job of convincing everyone that men are bad, and we’ve got a system that criminalizes dads and makes them pay maintenance for the shame of alternate-weekend contact. And we are told that 2 days a fortnight is sufficient because any more time with dad is dangerous.”

    Solicitors need to be reigned-in, the use of non-mols as part of the gamesmanship of divorce and separation needs to stop. Non-mols offer no real protection, they just cause bad feeling and often cut so deep that long term partners end up hating each other and there’s little chance of having an amicable relationship afterwards, especially if the subject of the order is convicted for doing something which wouldn’t normally be considered wrong, e.g. talking to the ex…. not at all good for the kids.

    This might be a controversial thing to say but I hope it’s taken in the good faith intended so here goes… a non-mol is not going to stop a murder. If somebody has got to the stage that they are prepared to kill they have gone past caring about the consequences.

    Children need to be protected form anti-family anti-men family courts and solicitors who are more interested in destroying the family than preserving it. Divorce and separation is an industry.. it makes money for people at the expense of the family. There are some that say domestic violence has also now become an industry… the definition is becoming ever more broad and be shoe horned to fit even the most minor of domestic disputes… men are the easy targets. I was shocked to hear yesterday that staring is now considered a form of domestic/sexual violence… so when does a look become a stare? Do you apply the 2 second rule? if so, how do you prove it?…. then again you don’t have to prove it, the man of course is guilty until proven innocent, he has to prove he hasn’t done it…. so how do you prove a negative?

    Negative proof
    A negative proof is a logical fallacy which takes the structure of:
    X is true because there is no proof that X is false.
    If the only evidence for something’s existence is a lack of evidence for it not existing, then the default position is one of skepticism and not credulity. This type of negative proof is common in proofs of God’s existence or in pseudosciences where it is used to attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the skeptic rather than the proponent of the idea. The burden of proof is on the individual proposing existence, not the one questioning existence.

  4. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    Here in Tulsa Oklahoma USA, both parents are legally required to attend a parenting seminar called Helping Children Cope With Divorce.

    HCCw/D costs about 50 dollars to sign up, lasts 4 hours, and is supposed to be very informative about helping the kiddoes.

  5. Child Advocate says:

    All very good advice, and so is the parenting seminar that many states require for divorcing parents. Those parents who need it the most will often NOT listen however, for they are too selfish and needy themselves to put their kids first.

    Family courts, attorneys, therapists, etc. desperately need to become educated about parental alienation syndrome (PAS), to accept that it exists and make efforts to save children from this abuse rather than promote it further.

  6. (Dr.) Nigel Miles says:

    All comments above are productive; the industry of domestic violence. Great? Legal Aid where available another aspect of the benefit system industry. If you want to save children for their best interest and to stop them being abused change the law. Ken Clarke was almost there at the end of 2012 to include Parity or Equality of Parenting in the Family Justice Review. But somehow in Private Law in the Children and Family Act of 2014 it was excluded. H’mmm I wonder why and at the time he was removed at Secretary of State for Justice…..
    Only a political solution will resolve this as stated. It is easy. Everyone gains children of course, society and even those aggressive feminists won’t be so aggressive as they will have an equal share of children and not worn down with the pressure of having to be mother AND father, the latter they cannot be.
    Action friends. Contact all your PPC’s in all your constituencies to get the law changed. This is now a a 5 way horse race to date in England and Wales (even the Greens are not far off Labour members as I write) …all are aware of this and voters can make a difference; only one has parity as a natural and insuperable right (leaf colour!) but the others could lose their seats or not gain it by quite literally by a hundred votes or less. All it takes is a quick email: Do you support equal parenting rights or not.

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