First Aid: Part 5 (3min)
Sticky Tape and Scissors
The right tools: Information is power. Don’t expect to get all the information you need from friends and family. A well meaning acquaintance down the pub can be a source of very unhelpful information. Being directed towards an adversarial lawyer when you are in a vulnerable state is not going to help you at all.
The price of ignorance can mean harm to the children. You owe it to your kids as well as to yourself to learn ways to reduce any parental conflict and what you can do to help reduce the harm it causes.
Speak to parenting experts who can help you.
- The right tools: Information is power
- The price of ignorance: harm to the children
- Parental conflict and what you can do to help reduce the harm it causes
P. J. O’Rourke once stated: “Children must be considered in a divorce – considered valuable pawns in the nasty legal and financial contest that is about to ensue.”
Half of all American children will witness the breakup of a parent’s marriage. Of these, close to half will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. (viii) It is estimated that one in three children in the UK will experience parental separation before the age of 16. In 2009 the number of UK children affected by divorce was estimated at 100,000. (ix)
Forty percent of children growing up in America today are being raised without their fathers. (x) In the UK, a million children are growing up without a father in their lives. (xxxiv)
Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. (xi)
Children of divorce are at a greater risk to experience injury, asthma, headaches and speech defects than children whose parents have remained married. (xii)
These are statistics that are hard to hear for those of us in families where the parents don’t live in the same home. But knowing there are millions of deaths and injuries due to car accidents doesn’t stop us driving cars. And we don’t want to stop people getting married just in case they end up joining the divorce statistics. But we do need to look at basic safety measures and have the tools to guide people away from being on the wrong side of the statistics when it comes to harm to their children.
Bandages are of less use without the scissors and tape to cut and secure them properly so they can do a better job. In the same way, people going through a divorce can lack basic information that can make a huge difference in how they navigate the process. Added to that, they may not be thinking straight. They become focused on the wrong things – like getting back at their Ex. They just don’t seem to have the tools – the information – to help them put the kids the first.
Back in 2009 a Mishcon de Reya study showed parents are willing to drag their children into the divorce process even when they acknowledge that the result is harmful to the children. In almost a quarter of cases, one parent forced their child to lie to the other parent.
So what can we all do to help protect the children of our friends, families and work colleagues who are dealing with divorce? Simple – encourage them to stay out of court and not to use the kids as weapons. But surely there is a strange assumption that many people have, that adversarial divorce is somehow ‘normal’.
In a survey commissioned by the Family Law Association Resolution in August 2012, 45% of Respondents thought “most divorces involve a visit to Court” and 40% agreed with the statement that “divorces can never be without conflict”. Yet the vast majority agreed that children’s interests should come first. (xiii)
A long term study (xiv) has shown that children whose parents divorce through the courts – compared to those parents who were randomly chosen in the study to use mediation – that those children of the adversarial divorce process were significantly less likely to be in regular contact with both parents post-divorce. Other studies (xv) confirm that: “Children who are exposed to a more intense conflict between parents are more likely to suffer harm resulting from their parents’ divorce. The lower the level of conflict between parents, the more likely those children will emerge emotionally whole.”
And if the divorcing person says to you: “But my day in court – I want my day in court! That’s my chance to feel heard!”
You can tell them – the judge is not interested in their pain. But if you are a celebrity the local press may well be, and they are allowed to come into the courtroom and report on whatever dirty laundry is paraded before the judge. If you choose mediation or collaborative law, no journalists are allowed in. It is completely confidential. In mediation and collaborative law, your ex has the opportunity to really listen to you in a supportive environment, as part of the process of seeking a sustainable settlement and a way to start over as separate people. And you have the opportunity to really listen to them, too. As co-parents, that is a good way to begin the many years of co-parenting that lie ahead. If you’re really clever, you’ll do some work singly or together with a relationship coach as well, which can transform the way you negotiate the divorce journey and make staying out of an adversarial frame of mind much much easier.
According to Nicholas Wall, former President of the Family Division of the English High Court, “People think that post-separation parenting is easy – in fact, it is exceedingly difficult, and as a rule of thumb my experience is that the more intelligent the parent, the more intractable the dispute. There is nothing worse, for most children than for their parents to denigrate each other. Parents simply do not realise the damage they do to their children by the battles they wage over them. Separating parents rarely behave reasonably, although they always believe that they are doing so and that the other party is behaving unreasonably.” (xvi)
A research report on the impact of family breakdown found that the long-term effects in adults, who as children have experienced a family breakdown, include problems with mental health and well-being, alcohol use, lower educational attainment and problems with relationships.
The good news is, that by guiding your friends and colleagues away from a divorce process that damages their kids, you will be helping that family to be a healthy and happy one in the longer term.
Parental conflict is a key variable associated with negative outcomes in children from both intact and non-intact families. Research in this area clearly shows that family functioning has a greater impact on outcomes than family structure. High levels of conflict, stress resulting from the separation and/or resulting poverty can all negatively affect maternal mental health.
Poor mental health affects the ability of parents, whether married, separated or divorced, to parent effectively, which in turn impacts on children’s well-being.
While family transitions place children at an increased risk of negative outcomes, the evidence shows that relatively few children and adolescents experience enduring problems, and some children can actually benefit when it brings to an end a ‘harmful’ family situation, for example where there are high levels of parental conflict, including violence.
What distinguishes family breakdown is that their parents are likely to be distressed at the same time – in fact, it is likely that parents’ distress may be a direct causal factor in children’s distress. Parents’ own distress may mean that they are unable to support and nurture their children adequately through the acute phases of family breakdown, and children may be unable or unwilling to communicate their needs or distress to their caring parent, in order to protect them from further distress.
The Research Report “Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being” (xvii) concluded:”Children from intact families can experience circumstances known to increase the risk of poor outcomes such as poverty, parental conflict, violence and poor parenting, whilst children whose parents separate may not experience these or can cope well, with the result that many children experiencing family breakdown will function as well as, or even better than, children from intact families.”
A key thing that you really can do to make sure more children do not suffer long term ill effects from their parent’s divorce, is not to tolerate someone speaking ill of their Ex when their kids are in hearing distance. And remember, children have much better hearing than us adults.
US TV star Valerie Bertinelli says it all: “Divorce isn’t the child’s fault. Don’t say anything unkind about your ex to the child, because you’re really just hurting the child.”
(viii) (Furstenberg, Peterson, Nord, and Zill, Life Course)
(x) (Wade, Horn and Busy, Fathers, Marriage and Welfare Reform Hudson Institute Executive Briefing, 1997)
- (xi)(Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment Sage Publications, 1988)
(xii)(Dawson, Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well Being National Health Interview Survey on Child Health, Journal of Marriage and the Family)
(xvi) Sellgren, Katherine (21 September 2010). “Divorcing parents can ‘damage’ children, says judge”. BBC News.
- (xvii)”Impact of Family Breakdown on Children’s Well-Being” by Ann Mooney, Chris Oliver and Marjorie Smith (Institute of Education, University of London 2009)
SuzyMillerCreator of Best Way To Divorce. International Divorce Divorce Strategist and TEDx Speaker.
6th March 2022
4th June 2023