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Divorce – what about the children?

I had a meeting with a new client this week which brought the bitter reality of a couples’ separation and the impact it has on their children, sharply into focus.During that first meeting, the recently separated wife held her emotions in check, giving me succinct, detailed information about her marriage and the family finances right up until we spoke about the couple’s young son. She became visibly upset by the fact that her husband had reneged on a prior agreement to speak to their 7 year old son together about their separation.

Instead, the father told him whilst she was at work and without her being there to offer support. He then informed my client by text that he had told their son that he was leaving.

The father’s decision in this particular case to go ahead despite an agreement to tell their son together, may well end up having an impact not only on the way their divorce progresses because of the early breakdown of trust and communication, but also on their son’s emotional wellbeing.

My client told me that upon finally arriving home, unsurprisingly she found a distraught little boy who has since constantly sent ‘Face Time’ messages to his father asking him to come back.

Whilst the number of divorces in England and Wales maybe on a downward slide, one factor remains a worrying constant; that half of those divorcing couples will have at least one child under the age of 16 years and a third of British children now live with only one of their parents.

The content of the recent BBC One programme ‘What divorce really does to children’ would have come as no surprise to family lawyers, but did make for uncomfortable viewing.

Despite our advice to parents, children are inevitably caught in the middle as some parents will insist on telling the children the ins and outs of their separation glossed up to be for their own good, when in reality, it serves no benefit but for the parents’.

One only has to look at the social media feedback and commentary arising from the programme to see what the main issue is for the older teenager/young adult whose parents have gone through a divorce. It is not the divorce per se which has a negative impact on their current and future lives and relationships but the way their parents behave towards each other and their children both during divorce and beyond.

The rise of technology means that parents can now communicate in a variety of ways, thus avoiding face-to-face conversations which can lead to a further breakdown in communication and exasperates misunderstandings.

Children are frequently given mobile phones at an early age which are intercepted or monitored by a parent which again places the child in the middle of the conflict and increases the sense of distrust between the parting parents.

We are not family therapists however, like many, I find myself being pulled into that area frequently by clients for whom the issues relating to the children are as important as, if not more important than, the resolution of a divorce or the resulting financial aspects.

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