Are you really keeping your children out of the divorce?

Are you really keeping your children out of the divorce?

The answer is most likely to be No. Even those that think they are putting their children’s needs first are most likely not, because it takes great strength of character and emotional awareness to do so, and unfortunately most adults do not have the skills or the proper support to do this.

We know from studies that around 1 in 3 children in the UK are likely to experience family separation or divorce before the age of 16.

  • Childrens emotional and psychological health can be impacted massively, leading to unintended consequences for them and their emotional well-being later in life.
  • Families will most likely experience a change in their financial and economic circumstances.
  • Children typically struggle more at school, their future job prospects can suffer as a result, and they are more likely to have less successful relationships themselves as an adult.

Do all children from separated families have long term problems?
No, particularly if the following happens:-

  • Good quality individual parenting
  • Stable and respectful co-parenting beyond separation
  • Understanding and accepting that your Financial and Economic circumstances are likely to change and protecting your children from that, by providing emotional support whilst adapting to the changes.
    It is as simple as that, except not many people find it that simple.  

I’m so angry with my ex-partner, they deserve to be punished, why should I withhold that hurt?  
If you are willing to engage in a fight over money or contact then it is highly unlikely that you have processed your feelings about your separation.
It is normal to feel so many emotions beyond separation. It is likely your ex partner is experiencing similar feelings no matter whose decision it was to separate. Both parties can allow themselves time to process their feelings, with professional support, before making decisions about finances and the long-term contact arrangements for the children and to avoid engaging in an ongoing argument.  Remember your children love you both.  They do not have the emotional or advanced capacity to understand the many complex reasons that may have contributed to your separation.  They should never have to listen to one of you speaking detrimentally about the other, nor be put in a position where they are made to choose one parent over the other in relation to any decisions particularly around contact and financial arrangements.  You might make mistakes during this time, acknowledge them before its too late.  Acknowledge when you are being driven by emotion.  If you have older children, perhaps they do have a better understanding of the situation that lead to your relationship break-down.  Don’t add additional layers of your own hurt to their hurt.  If needed, create space for listening without an agenda.  This can be incredibly difficult if you are still grieving.  If you are not able to provide this to your family then find somewhere where you can attend family counselling.

Grieving when a relationship breaks down
You might be familiar with the grieving process, but if you are not being supported to understand that process and the feelings you are experiencing (sadness, anger, frustration) are not being normalised, then the likelihood is you are going to find yourself in a very stereotypical process, whereby one person takes control of one aspect of the separation and the other responds by taking control of another aspect of the separation. You can probably guess the formula and what will be taken control of. Finances and Children.

Finances are tricky, and it may feel important that you come out with a level of financial security if you are going to be the main care-giver to the child, it is also incredibly important that your children don’t experience a huge change in their economic circumstances as a result of their parents separating, but it is of equal importance that the father’s financial circumstances are manageable and balanced. It is also important to be realistic and it is important not to engage in this particular discussion until both parties have come to terms with the separation. If one of you or both of you are hurting, as a result of the separation, then you are unlikely to have respectful or successful conversations reaching a mutually acceptable conclusion, even during mediation. That does not mean that you won’t be able to in a few months time. Allow yourself and your ex partner to go through the grieving process and come to terms with the separation before embarking on these discussions. It will be the best decision you have ever made in terms of supporting yourself and your children’s emotional well-being.

Look at the graphic, and consider how you might approach divorce, separation and financial settlements, in the first half of the graphic, whilst experiencing Shock, Denial, Frustration and Depression. The process of grief takes time. Now imagine if you had dealt with your grief for the new situation and had moved into the next stages, of Experiment, Decision and Integration? You are much more likely to be able to make decisions, cooperate, empathise with one anothers circumstances.

The Process
If a couple decide to separate or divorce, these days you are likely to be recommended to attend Mediation. For many this will be a box-ticking exercise, before going to seek advice from a solicitor, rather than an education and understanding about the process of grief and emotional process that separation causes. It is very unlikely you will reach an agreement within 1 session, particularly if one or both of you are still grieving for the loss of the relationship or loss of contact with their children. 1 Mediation session is currently what is recommended before a solicitor will gladly take on your case.

If you choose to have 1 session of mediation, when both parties are experiencing grief then move straight into legal battles you are likely to remain in the first 4 stages of grief for a long time (Shock, Denial, Frustration and Depression). Finances do not have feelings, your children do – and to engage in a 2 year fight through the courts(which is typically how long a divorce through the courts can take) it is likely to cause irreversible damage to your ongoing co-parenting relationship.  This is then likely to have huge consequences to your children’s emotional well-being and as a result could impact their mental well-being throughout childhood and as an adult.   How you support your young children in the early days beyond your separation, and support them to have a relationship with their other parent for life is far more important.  Divorce through the courts also effectively delays the grieving process for your relationship, and adds additional layers of grief beyond the 2 years you are engaging in this argument.  It will cause tremendous heartache, awful memories ending with the most painful memory of all, a Final Hearing where you both attend court to basically ‘fight it out’.

Finances and your economic situations are highly likely to change over the short term years, because your children grow, and usually go into education, and most parents will go on to have another relationship. Do you really want to engage in a full on fight, risk your children’s emotional stability, and your ability to be good parents beyond separation, over something that is likely to change as you move on in your life anyway?

It is about time the support we receive post separation changed, it should be compulsory to attend at least 3 mediation sessions over a course of 6 months and 1-1 counselling sessions alongside during that time before being able to access legal support (except for in extreme circumstances). Realistic goals should be determined at each session. Mediators should be able to educate you to the emotional process you are going through and support you with the here and now, not running into the future.  Once you are clearly not being lead by your emotions it will be far easier to reach an amicable agreement.  The cost of this process would probably be around £3,000 – £5,000 at the most.

Solicitors tell you what you can achieve in terms of finances if your divorce through the courts, they are effectively drawing you into an expensive fight with your ex partner.  The person you used to love, share your life with and share a bed with, the person you made your babies with. They do not support you in understanding at what detrimental emotional cost to yourself and your children this process of gaining ‘what you can achieve’ will entail. They might give you a book to read about supporting your children through divorce, but seem to subsequently misunderstand the process that they then guide you through will make it almost impossible to follow the recommendations in the book. Effectively you are asking someone else to make a decision about your life, a Judge, that you do not get to choose based on their skills or background, who will be influenced by his own life experiences, and unfortunately for the stereotypical divorce – male (main fee earner) female (main child carer) will employ his own, perspectives of what is fair.  The outcome of your divorce could vary hugely depending on which judge is assigned to your case. To put your finances in the hands of this system is effectively a potluck experience. The divorce courts are so busy, that this process will take up to 2 years of your life and is likely to cost you between £40,000-£50,000 in court and solicitors costs.  There is then no follow up to determine what one party has argued for is actually adhered to, for instance if the person that ends up responsible for the children argues that they must remain in the school catchment area, and is awarded the money to find a suitable property within a 5 mile radius of that area, then beyond the court hearing decides to move the children to a different school, or move to a home with a new partner 35 miles away there is little that can be done about it by the other parent.  Which means each party is not held accountable for the detail of the case they and their legal team pitched in court.  The only part of the court order which is upheld is the amount that is to be divided not the details that allowed that amount to be decided.  This leaves us with a system that is very easy to play if you are that way inclined.  This only opens up further opportunities for continued bad feeling beyond the courts decision and further opportunities for hurt to blur your ability to co-parent.  To argue that your economic circumstances might change so much, to then justify the process of divorce through the courts, to then spend £40,000 – £50,000 for this to be settled is somewhat ironic, conflicting and a sickening waste of money that could have been used by both parties to better the economic circumstances for both families and to maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.  There really are only one set of winners.  The solicitors that take your fees at no emotional or personal cost to them.

The Parent Connection says:-
‘The good news is that you can take steps to limit the effects of separation on your children, and they needn’t suffer any long term harm, There’s no simple formula to follow, but the key factors linked to positive outcomes for children are:-
Good quality, warm parenting from both parents
Continuing good relations and cooperation between parents
Social support for the child from extended family and friends’

If you decide to divorce, with solicitors, through the courts, it will sadly make the above points pretty impossible to achieve, probably for a long time.

If you allow each other time to process feelings (at least 6 months before making important long-term decisions), and work hard to understand your own feelings (with professional support if necessary), keeping your children at the heart of the decisions you are making (remembering that they did not choose this and that they love both parents) and work hard to empathise with your separated partners personal journey to process their own feelings then you will move forward positively, and your co-parenting journey will strengthen beyond your separation.

It is wise to seek support from a mutual friend(s) that has the ability to remain neutral and mindful of both parents needs, someone who cares for you and your children that can keep you focused on your family goals beyond separation.

The Separated Parents Programme is a really good programme if you are needing to refocus your goals and remind yourself to consider separation from your children’s perspective.  It is so important to understand the mistakes we can make, when we are not considering the mind of a child.  You can self refer to this workshop and it costs £75 to attend.  It is well worth it.

Separated Parents Information Programme

Fair play to all of those parents that work hard to protect their children from their separation.  Fair play to those that are unfortunately dragged through the court system with little choice, because one party doesn’t manage the above steps, and does not attempt cooperation and good co-parenting practice.

Not involving your children in your separation is not an easy thing to achieve and our systems in the UK have a long way to go to ensure improvement and better emotional outcomes for families.

Updated, since writing this I am very pleased to signpost to some much better collaborative practise and can thoroughly recommend the following:-

Collaborative Divorce

For more information on divorce and separation and keeping your children protected, I love Dr Laura Markham’s article:-

Protecting children from divorce

The Parent Connection:-

Divorce and Separation


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