Separation and divorce – resources for all
Many children and young people will experience the separation and divorce of their parents.
When a relationship breaks down, it can be painful for everyone in the family, but it is important to try to minimise stress when children are involved. Parents can become so distracted by their own feelings about the situation that they lose sight of how it may be affecting their children.
Research shows that the children of parents that separate can experience poorer outcomes than other children however, some of the difficulties can be offset by the way parents deal with the separation.
Importantly, although experiencing a parental separation can be very upsetting for children, parents can help prevent the experience being traumatic for their children.
What is meant by stress or trauma?
Stress or trauma is brought about when children cannot adequately express what they are feeling about what is happening. Children may feel anger or fear but are unable to articulate or voice their feelings possibly because of a divided loyalty or a belief that they won’t be listened to. It is this sense of powerlessness along, with the often on going acrimony between their parents, that can lead to traumatic stress.
Trauma is determined by the child’s experience of the event, not simply the event itself. Different children in the same family may have a dramatically different emotional reaction to divorce. Parent’s attitude shapes their children’s attitude – words and actions can either expose children to unnecessary emotional pain or help them develop in positive ways.
Parental separation is like bereavement and children often find it difficult to cope with the strong emotions that arise from such a loss.
Find out more about separation anxiety and how to deal with it on the HelpGuide website at www.helpguide.org/separation-anxiety-and-separation-anxiety-disorder
Advice for parents and carers
One thing most parents have in common is the love for their children and not wanting anything to upset or harm them. Whilst adults may have strong negative and confused feelings towards each other, which can be overwhelming, it is important to remember that these are not the child’s feelings.
Research shows many children wish their parents would stay together, so making children choose or expecting them to take sides can cause long term damage. Also children cannot assert themselves like adults and some do not easily understand what is happening.
Parents should try to remain focused on what is in their child’s best interest and try not to:
- argue in front of their children or on the phone
- talk with children about the other parent’s negative behaviour
- expect children to take sides or talk negatively about the other parent
- use children as a ‘go between’ or as the only means of communication with the other parent.
Separation where there are children means that there will always be a link between parents through their children. Parents have a choice – maintain the acrimony, with the risks to their children’s and own mental health; or find a way of communicating, particularly about decisions involving the children.
Mediation helps adults to make arrangements for children and finance if they are splitting-up or getting a divorce. Family mediation helps all sorts of people: married and unmarried, parents, grandparents, step-parents and young people can all take part.
Visit the Family Mediation Council website at www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk to learn more about the benefits of mediation and to find a local mediator.
A mediator can give information about law but cannot give anyone advice about what to do but parents should consult a solicitor for legal advice. A solicitor can help before, in between sessions and when agreement has been reached so parties know that whatever agreed to is fair.
Visit the Child Law Advice website at childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/divorce/ for more information. The website also has information on the alternatives to ending a marriage or civil partnership, which are annulment and judicial separation.
The LawStuff website at lawstuff.org.uk provides age appropriate legal information to children and young people.
Counselling can take many forms and can be provided to both parents or individually. Sometimes, the feelings experienced during and following a separation can feel overwhelming and disabling. If this is the case counselling can provide someone to talk to who will listen and not make judgments.
Relate offers relationship support for everyone; users can talk to an experienced Relate counsellor for up to 20 minutes and all calls are confidential.
Relate for Parents puts the emphasis on the children and can help adults deal with the process positively and learn how best to help their children through the experience. It can help adults shield children from negative emotions and plan important contact with the parent who is no longer at home.
Find out more on their website at www.relate.org.uk
Family Lives offer support for the difficult times through a live online chat, helpline and email service. Adults can talk things through with a trained support worker who is there to listen, advise and support them.
Visit the Family Lives website at www.familylives.org.uk/getting-counselling-to-help-you-during-divorce-or-separation for more information and contact details.
To help find a local counsellor visit the Counselling Directory website at www.counselling-directory.org.uk
Talking to children
NSPCC has advice on talking about difficult topics such as telling children about separation.
Read more on their website at www.nspcc.org.uk/separation-divorce-and-contact
Practical advice and support
Family Lives have lots of advice for anyone thinking about separating or divorcing their partner, or who are already doing so. Advice includes where to find support, how divorce affects children and ways to help them through the process.
Visit the Family Lives website atwww.familylives.org.uk/advice/divorce-and-separation
Cafcass – has lots of advice for parents & carers, including writing a Parenting Plan which covers the practical issues of parenting. Find this on their website at www.cafcass.gov.uk/parents-and-carers/divorce-and-separation
Cafcass also have advice and resources for children and young people on their website at www.cafcass.gov.uk/young-people/my-parents-are-separating