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Huge rise in divorce worry calls to ChildLine

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Huge rise in divorce worry calls to ChildLine.

ChildLine was set up in the 1980s to help children in trouble, particularly those suffering abuse. However, a new survey has revealed that it has seen a huge rise in calls from children worried about their parents divorcing.

Children really are stuck in the middle when it comes to divorce. The whole world they have known comes crashing down around them. Nothing will be the same again. On top of that, they have to split their time between each parent (in normal circumstances). This can lead to them not only missing the absent parent – whether they are with mum or dad – but also worrying that they are making them sad.

When you think about it, it is no wonder that the Scottish arm of children’s charity ChildLine is reporting a massive rise in the number of calls it is taking from children worried and upset about their parents splitting up. In many respects, it’s a surprise this hasn’t been reported previously.

NSPCC Scotland, which runs the ChildLine service, reported that they gave almost 600 counseling sessions to children about the issue in 2012-13 – a rise of 171 per cent on the previous 12 months.

Among the comments recorded was a girl saying she felt “stuck in the middle” and like she had to “make everyone else happy all the time”.  Another who called the free helpline said: “When I spend time with my mum, I know that my dad feels down, and then when I go to see my dad then my mum will feel down.” She went on: ““I find it really difficult to talk to them about it because I know it’s hard for them both, but I hate feeling guilty all the time.”

These words are quite upsetting to read, but they should come as no surprise. Children are the real victims of divorce. Adults make their own decisions. Even if they are not the one to instigate the divorce, their behavior can shape the situation, they have had a hand in how the family got to where it is, and can influence how family life goes on in the future. The children are the passengers – which is a timely reminder that the law of divorce is shaped around what is best for the children.

If a court is asked to intervene – and don’t forget it is always, always best if you can reach agreement on all matters without taking up court time – it will come from the viewpoint of what is best for the children involved. Not what mum wants or the rights dad thinks he has, but what is best for the children. If they can be at the heart of considerations from the start, it can save everyone time, money and heartache, while making the transition to a new family way of life as gentle as possible for the young people affected by the divorce.

Resources like ChildLine are vital lifelines to children in turmoil but there is plenty more we can do as family solicitors to signpost supporting resources. For any adult going through a divorce, you can learn more about issues surrounding children and how best to deal with the situation by clicking here.

Hopefully, together, we can do more to reassure children that both parents still love them, they should not feel guilty about anything and their family lives on after divorce, even though it will be in a different form.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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An excellent article by Andrew Woolley, getting right to the heart of the matter, and revealing the child’s dilemma.

Perhaps it’s not too soon to consider what initiatives are working in Countries beyond our shores? Australia is introducing free family counselling sessions when relationships start coming undone. In Norway, and NZ, their societies are in the main ‘Court phobic’ – and establish post separation arrangements for children by apportioning times in accordance with a time-based framework as a start point for negotiation; based on what ‘good enough’ parents will agree.

Sadly, in Britain, there are no such initiatives. By comparison we are sitting on our hands whilst other countries lead. When parents go to War, the new current thinking at Court is, “Let the child speak up!” - seemingly without any proper consideration for the ramifications this may have for the child thereafter.

Mediation that fails to shake the perceived power dynamic, affirming that parents continue to ‘share parenting responsibilities’, invariably reinforces power imbalance; thus, serves no useful purpose, or may even make matters worse.

The Courts have no time-based framework, and court reporters don’t know whether to encourage or obstruct contact; or what the norms of post separation time might be. They have no guidelines, or training in the main area of their work. And no training in parental alienation, that dark spectre that cannot be other than a common factor where cases are contested.

But there may be hope. ENEs, (Early Neutral Evaluations), is being introduced by the Family Court for child contact disputes – however, when tested, the Court in my area had never even heard of it.

And finally, there is that other dark spectre of the Contact Centre, where ‘good enough’ parents who, prior to separation, shared the parenting responsibilities for their child, are now restricted to, say, an hour a week supervised contact in a dusty Church hall, with no ‘reprieve’ or end in sight, simply because one parent will not agree; or is being ‘contrary’ over contact arrangements. This will not do! It represents the easy option for Courts when parents cannot agree over quantum, and is more often a precursor to child-parent severance.

Enlightened practitioners take the view that Contact Centres should be made harder to get into and easier to get out of.

Wake up Britain! We cannot continue to put children in this invidious position simply because parents fall out of love for each other. Children are frightened and scared about parents splitting up, and rightly so. 

Proper reform is needed, with proper training and time-linked guidelines.

One barrier to such reform is the very dated thinking that “every case is different” (a bit like ‘the World is flat’ but in legal terms); thus, there is a perception that there cannot be a basis or starting point from which to negotiate a child-centred solution, based on the apportionment of time. Absolute codswallop!

Another barrier to constructive mediated solutions, is that mediators, “cannot possibly remind parents of their continued shared responsibilities, otherwise someone might get upset”. Well, I have news for Mediation – children in the UK are already upset, if not a tad frightened and perhaps just a little scared. If in doubt, ask Childline!

Fact is, the means to achieving child-centred solutions are available now - they simply have to be installed. Then we can all begin rescuing children’s futures.

By Kenneth Lane on Wednesday September 3, 2014

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