After a recent survey that showed that the children of divorce are ‘more likely to drink, fail exams, develop eating disorders and do drugs’, a family law expert at B P Collins has said she believes the problems are more to do with the manner in which their parents’ divorce, rather than being a symptom of the divorce itself.
According to family solicitor Sue Andrews, many children are, sadly, drawn directly into the issues and even asked to make decisions about where they want to live and with whom.
She believes that no matter how old the children, such direct involvement is never a good thing.
Andrews said: ‘Divorce is always going to be an emotional rollercoaster, but no matter how difficult things are, if the parents can keep talking and respect each other’s viewpoint then you can make the separation and change much easier on you and your children.
‘The secret of a good divorce is to keep the lines of communication open. Try to remember what brought you together in the first place and give your partner time to move on emotionally, as he or she may not be in the same place as you. By doing so, you can lessen the impact on your children.’
The Resolution survey, which looked at the experience of 500 young people aged 14 to 22, revealed that nearly two thirds of children whose families broke up claimed it had a negative effect on their GCSEs and their schooling had been adversely affected as they struggled to complete their homework. Around 12 per cent admitted skipping lessons and 11 per cent found themselves increasingly in trouble with teachers as a result of a change in family circumstances.
More than 25 per cent said they had been dragged into their parents’ arguments and, of those surveyed, a third said that one parent had tried to turn them against the other parent.
Andrews said that by taking expert advice many of the problems reported in the Resolution survey can be avoided. ‘It’s clear from this survey that some parents do encourage their children to take sides but our advice is to remain neutral and not to involve them in your dispute. If possible, try not to show your own feelings — sorrow, anger and bitterness — to them.
‘Talk to your children but try not to use them or their emotions as weapons in your divorce. Always remember that you are the adult and it is up to you to make decisions for them.’
She added that although the Resolution statistics are a concern, it is also true that children of couples who stay together ‘for the sake of the children’ can be damaged by seeing their parents at loggerheads.
‘If parents are constantly arguing and there is emotional, verbal or even physical abuse in a marriage, or indeed if there is an emotional distance, this can have a much more damaging effect on children than if couples recognise that they simply aren’t meant to be together any longer and have a “good divorce”,’ Andrews said.
‘The role of a family lawyer should be to help and guide our clients through the process, and find them a solution that is best for their individual needs and that allows everyone to move on with dignity and respect.’