Spring will shortly arrive and the long, dark and cold days of January seem a distant past. The festivities enjoyed at Christmas is a dim memory. However, for many, January was the month when a life-changing decision was made in relation to the future of their relationship with their spouse/partner. This month is now notorious for being known as the busiest month for family lawyers.
The ending of a relationship is one of the most stressful things that one can endure and where children are involved it can be heart-wrenching.
Let us focus on some of the emotions that the children of divorcing/separating couples may encounter:
Unsure and afraid of the future
So many questions enter a child’s mind once they are aware that their parents are divorcing or separating:
- Will I be poor?
- Will I go to a new school?
- Will I need to move home?
- Who will I live with?
- Will I still see my grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts?
Children may feel rejected by the parent who leaves the family home. This obviously does not make sense to the parent but as children perceive themselves as the centre of the universe they believe that anything that happens in the household must have something to do with them.
For the same reason, children could believe that the separation is their fault! Especially those going through difficult teen years. They may feel that their behaviour has contributed to the breakdown of the relationship.
Torn in Two
This is the most damaging emotional trauma and is caused by parents who fight or make negative comments about each other in the presence of the child. They are forced to take sides but this is impossible without feeling “disloyal” to the other parent. However, they also feel that if they do not take sides they will be rejected by both parents – they are in a “no-win” situation through no fault of their own.
Sad and Lonely
Children of separated couples may be going through the same set of emotions that children who have lost a parent forever to accident or illness may feel. However, they hardly receive the same emotional support. They too feel they no longer have a family – a way of life is at an end. They feel lonely – missing the non-resident parent and their particular parenting skills. The parent at home may be too wrapped up in their own problems to be fully available.
Anger is a common emotional effect of divorce/separation caused by a lack of understanding or acceptance of a breakdown.
How you can help:
First and foremost couples facing separation must try to keep lines of communication open. They must try to set aside their own feelings and focus on the welfare of the children as their primary concern. Consider the following:-
- Communicate the decision made together if possible or if not separately but make sure the content is kept simple and unified.
- Tell them that the separation is not their fault and they will continue to be the focal point of each parent’s lives.
- Discuss living and contact arrangements between you. This is extremely important. It will ensure that the children are assured that they will see the absent parent regularly and that their relationship with them will not suffer. It will also serve to lessen the conflict between you. Remember the children need to have a full and loving relationship with both sets of parents notwithstanding that the parents cannot live together. This is vital to their wellbeing.
In some situations, professional assistance may be required and many family lawyers are now members of Resolution. This means that they will handle issues in an amicable and non-confrontational manner. They will advise you to ensure that the process is made less stressful for you and consequently your children. Various routes are available which will assist you to reach decisions and agreements without the need to involve court which can not only be very expensive but also stressful.
In all, the one thing that all family lawyers agree upon is that separation should be handled as sensitively, amicably and cost-effectively as possible without the need for litigation as really there are no winners.
Written by Shabana Walayat (Partner)
Member of Resolution
Family Panel Member