As an experienced family solicitor, I have long been aware of the devastating impact divorce and separation can have on children, yet I was still particularly horrified to read recently the statistics from a poll undertaken on behalf of another firm of solicitors.
Most alarming to me was the revelation that “one in three children whose parents separated or divorced over the last 20 years disclosed that they had lost contact permanently with their father”. Equally concerning was the fact that “almost a tenth of children from broken families said the acrimonious process had left them feeling suicidal while others later sought solace in drink, drugs or crime”.
The picture this paints of our society and the way the courts system deals with family break-up is not a pretty one, particularly with the acceptance from some parents polled who said they had deliberately used the children as “bargaining tools against each other”. This can only put further strain on relations when it may be perceived that children are taking sides. However, some balance is needed to highlight the efforts that many families do put in to ensure their children are put first and arrangements relating to contact are arrived at amicably and without involving confrontation. Research has shown that children cope far better with their parents break-up if they are told what is happening in an honest and age appropriate way and that they feel that their concerns, wishes and feelings are not only being listened to but also acted upon where possible.
Very often when asked, children will say that all they want is for their family unit to be back how it was and they find it very difficult to envisage a world where they are not seeing both parents each day or as often as they had done prior to the break up. This gives parents the very difficult task of trying to create two new homes, and all the financial and emotional upheaval that involves, as well as making arrangements for the children that ensure that their need to be with both parents is met.
All of the research, including this particular poll, clearly shows that litigating through the courts is not the answer where children are concerned. The very nature of litigation prevents the parents from trying to reach workable solutions together and tends to polarise their positions and almost encourage them to become more entrenched. This is not only damaging financially and emotionally for the parents, resulting often in fathers giving up the fight as they are too emotionally and financially drained, but also has a devastating impact on the children involved.
Parental responsibility gives parents all the legal rights responsibilities and duties towards their child in law. I am a strong believer that parents should exercise their parental responsibility in a non-selfish and child centred way so as to ensure that even after a relationship breakdown the children grow up knowing they are loved and cared for by both parents equally and that the split was not their fault.
I recently attended a course as part of my collaborative law work and a website called Postcards from Splitsville was brought to my attention. It is a heart-wrenching site where children of all ages are able to anonymously draw a postcard expressing their experience of their parents’ break-up. I think all parents embarking on a separation should seriously look into all the options available to them including mediation and collaborative law if they are unable to agree arrangements directly. If they need further evidence of the damaging effect fighting can have on their children if they choose a different route, they should take at a look at the website to encourage them to revise their strategy.
Woolley & Co, Solicitors