Divorce: Putting Your Children First
Divorce is an inherently difficult and stressful time for couples… is how most marital breakdown articles start. But what about children?
In a recent poll of 250 participants, Cripps Pemberton Greenish found that 84% believe the law around divorce does not do enough to protect children’s interests.
The simple fact that two parents are separating is enough to potentially cause short and long term effects on a child’s wellbeing. Numerous studies have shown that children often blame themselves for the breakdown. This guilt, along with the general stress and anxiety from the breakdown, can manifest into various problems including behavioural issues, health conditions and educational shortfalls.
In the present day, the effect of divorce on a child is often exacerbated by two key factors – Family Court delays and the current divorce law.
Family Court delays
Since the introduction of Regional Divorce Centres in 2014/15, average waiting times for divorce paperwork to be reviewed, sealed and issued are at an all-time high with some cases taking in excess a year. These delays naturally put added strains on families by increasing the longevity of an already trying process.
The current divorce law
Current law burdens the divorce applicants to demonstrate that their marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ by use of one of five facts: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for 2 years (with consent) or separation for 5 years (without consent). This method frequently leads to couples having to play a ‘blame game’ which, naturally, causes emotions to run high.
This ‘blame game’ often causes a strong distraction for couples. This diversion leads to children witnessing and absorbing complex emotions which they often do not understand, amplifying the difficulties children are already experiencing.
These aggravating factors highlight a need for reform. A reform that puts children at the forefront of the minds of parents, lawyers and judges which will help protect children’s welfare throughout the emotional minefield that is divorce.
What Are Lawyers Doing?
In April 2019, Justice Secretary David Gauke proposed changes to the existing divorce law which included the introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce. Current law requires individuals to point the finger in order to demonstrate that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. The hope is ‘no fault’ divorces should minimise the number of children caught in the middle of this antagonising ‘blame game’, allowing parents to focus more on the needs of their children.
The good news is that the Government appears committed to reforming divorce law with this new legislation expected to be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows.
What Can Parents Do?
Cripps Pemberton Greenish are encouraging separating parents to keep their children in the forefront of their minds and establish positive communication between each other in recognition that although they are separating, they are still parents to the children of their marriage.
On a general note, Cripps Pemberton Greenish urge parents to try and implement family coping strategies to help alleviate the difficulties of divorce. Strategies include keeping to family routines, talking and listening to children about their feelings and keeping discussions about proceedings away from children’s ears. On an emotive level, parents should ensure that their children feel safe, secure, loved and comfortable in the family arrangements to ensure minimal disruption.
Parents and children are sometimes encouraged to attend counselling to express themselves and help untangle emotions in a safe and supportive environment. Additionally, trying to resolve issues collaboratively or through the process of mediation is also recommended. Mediation can help parents agree child and living arrangements along with financial decisions in a space away from Court and more importantly, the children.
Furthermore, CAFCASS provides a 4 hour Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) which has been running for over 10 years. While this tends to be a Court ordered course, parents can attend voluntarily. The course helps parents understand how to put children first during separation by way of conflict management techniques and learning. Our clients have commented that they found it extremely enlightening and wished they had attended one sooner.
Attending counselling, mediation and SPIPs are all excellent ways to spare children from distress and empower couples to have more control in achieving a positive outcome for the whole family
Finally, as a result of Court delays, Cripps Pemberton Greenish actively advises clients to consider private arbitration instead of Courts. This enables separating couples to have disputes settled privately and more quickly than through the court service. This is an excellent way of reducing the overall timeframe which can result in less upset for children.