It is estimated that around 300,000 children are affected by their parents getting divorce or splitting up after co-habiting every year. It can be an extremely traumatic time for them as everyone tries to get to grips with the evolving situation. There is, however, much that parents, family and friends can do to help them navigate their way through and come to terms with their new way of life. Often, the way that parents break up with each other, and how they behave in the immediate aftermath, is more distressing to their offspring than the fact of the separation itself.
If possible, parents should break the news of their separation to their children together. It allows everyone to be present and to agree on the messages being conveyed. Children can also ask questions and offer opinions on what they want to happen next. If parents feel unable to do this without resorting to anger or upset a family solicitor can arrange for a third party mediator to be in the room to help keep the atmosphere calm and conducive to healthy discussion.
Reassuring the children must be all parties’ top priority. Depending on the age groups involved, children may feel sad, abandoned, unloved, guilty, fearful or angry. Make sure that they know that it is okay to express their feelings and provide a safe way for them to do so. Make sure they know that both parents still love them and want the best for them in terms of where they live, and with whom, as well as arrangements for schooling, holidays, extra-curricular activities and medical support.
Get all the legal aspects of the separation sorted as soon as possible as part of the divorce paperwork, or separate instructions regarding residency, access and parental responsibilities. You may need to update your Will to reflect your new situation and add or remove family members, in-laws and step relatives further down the line. Ask a family solicitor to sort this out for you so that you can be confident everything is legally correct and professionally done.
In a world that is changing dramatically, children will cling to anything familiar, so maintain their regular routine as much as possible. Keep the children in the same house and school, at least to begin with, to help the transition. Let them enjoy hobbies, see friends etc. Be cautious when introducing new partners to them – wait until you are confident that they will become a long lasting fixture in your life before you ask your children to accept them as family. You might also like to book some time with a solicitor to make sure everything is sorted out legally in terms of parental access, divorce settlements, maintenance payments and so forth. Failure to do this in a calm and timely way can have a long lasting negative impact on your children.