Changing life factors and simple cases of ‘falling out of love’ make divorce inevitable for many married couples with as many as 42% of marriages in England and Wales ending in divorce.
For the parents of children under 16 years of age, divorce can be especially stressful. Not only are you breaking up with your spouse, you also have the additional pressure of protecting your children emotionally, as best you can.
Our Legal 500 recommended team aims to provide advice for parents who are facing, or about to face, this turbulent time. This advice is brought to you via years of our own experience, the words of industry leading counsellors and the advice of people who have been there before you – for the sole purpose of helping you and your child(ren) to be happy again.
How to protect your children
It is vitally important when going through a divorce involving children that you and your former spouse try and co-parent peacefully for the good of your children. Much of the time animosity from one parent to the other can lead a child to become confused, angry, scared and extremely unhappy – whether they show it or not.
Whilst this animosity may have a very legitimate foundation, as a parent you must make a decision to put the feelings of your children over your own.
Keep the argument away from your children
The most important part when looking to protect your children from divorce is to keep them out of it as much as you possibly can. This is easier said than done however because no matter how much we want to protect our children, as human beings we like to show and share our pain. There is a lot of evidence to support the fact that arguing in front of children can be damaging to them, especially if the fights are nasty and the parents don’t make up – a hallmark of most fights during divorce!
It’s never too late to try and lessen the effects:
- If you do argue, try and repair the damage. Explain why there was an argument, explain that you still love your children. So says Dr Phil McGraw, who goes on to list another 8 ways in which you can stop fighting in front of your kids.
- Choose a place to have discussions with your ex-spouse. This can be at a coffee shop, a residence, the park – choose somewhere away from the children. Knowing a place where you have a discussion allows you to work through the problems in your own mind, which will let you both articulate your problems better when it comes to the agreed date.
Reduce your stress
Do this for yourself, and you will help your children.
Divorce could be the second most stressful event in your life, so there is a lot of emotion which needs to be channelled. By channelling this somewhere other than into arguments, you could feel yourself beginning to handle the divorce more strongly, whilst also providing a better environment for your children during this time. Now, the first step is to get competent legal advice- the right solicitor will take you through the divorce timetable and process and alleviate many of your apprehensions about this. But legal representation aside, you could look at trying one or all of:
- Keeping your fitness schedule constant. Exercise releases endorphins, which are known as the brains “feel good neuro-transmitters” – in simple terms, exercise makes you feel good. It also lets you spend excess energy which could have otherwise been used for arguing. Keep up with your fitness, and you will feel better.
- Keeping a journal. We argue, vent, shout and sometimes say things we regret because we just need to get our feelings out. And the other option of keeping it in just adds to your stress and emotions. This is why keeping a journal can be such an effective way of reducing your stress levels, whilst also keeping a much calmer home environment for your children. Note the sources of your stress, how it makes you feel, why you feel it. Just write until you feel like you have no more to say.
- Don’t isolate yourself. You need support too, and as we have said a healthy you is a healthy parent. See your friends, see a counsellor if you need to, be sure to do all you can to stay in a healthy frame of mind as you try and rebuild your life.
Everything is changing but try and maintain some “same”
This is a huge period of change for your child. They see you or your partner less than before and in a completely different environment. Not only that, but there can often be a new person involved in the life of you and/or your ex-spouse, which is something else for your children to deal with in this time of upheaval.
So try and be the rock they need, the familiar face in a sea of change. During a divorce children can internalise their feelings of guilt about the divorce, so the pain they feel isn’t always obvious. You can reassure them in ways such as:
- Talking to them. Reassure them that this isn’t their fault and that you will love them during and after the divorce.
- Keep things normal. Or as normal as you possibly can. If you have a routine, then try and stick to it (swimming lessons, shopping days, play days, etc.), this lets you maintain the stability that your children crave.
- Keep up your appearance. According to relate, “29% of resident parents said that their child never sees their other parent, and 20% of all resident parents said that their child has not seen their other parent since separation.” It’s important for children to see both parents frequently, for more information on separation statistics see the factsheet (download)
Be honest with yourself
The blame game is something which is easy to play when going through divorce, but it yields very little for you and those closest to you. It causes your children the additional pressure to make a choice between you and your ex-spouse, whilst also adding emotions such as anger into their environment. Try to avoid:
- A refusal to talk to your ex. Communication is necessary to protect your children and speed up enabling you to get on with the rest of your life.
- Letting your emotions make decisions for you. When emotions run high it is rare that the decisions made will ultimately be the best for your family. Make sure you have the right legal representation, honestly talk through your situation and come to reasoned decisions which best serve you and your children. Never make decisions to spite your ex-spousethis normally ends up hurting both of you.
Choose your method of divorce carefully
It is becoming increasingly popular for divorce to be carried out in a calmer, more proactive way than can often be the case in a courtroom. These calmer methods can reduce the stress of a divorce for you, and in turn your children. Some of the options available are:
- Mediation. This is an opportunity for you and your partner to talk through the important issues of your divorce, in an environment free of pressure. A mediator will help to keep conversations constructive, and helpful to the common goal of a fair divorce.
- Collaborative law. This relatively new process involves lawyers who have undergone special training lead the negotiations in this process, following terms which you have previously set before the event.
- Solicitor negotiation. Much like the previous two options, solicitor negotiation can be employed by yourself in an attempt to bring a harmonious end to an acrimonious split. Respectful negotiations take place which can then be made legally binding should you agree to it.
These options are all available to you to try and bring an end to your marriage in an amicable way, free from the hassles and stress which can affect the children of divorce.
If you would like to know more about some of the topics discussed above, find below some websites and resources which will be of use to you.
- Resolution. The organisation promotes a non-confrontational approach to family law, and enforces a code of conduct upon its members. You will find a wealth of advice on family law matters, as well as the location of the Resolution specialist closest to you.
- Alternative divorce processes. Find out more about the alternatives to getting divorced in court.
- Governmental guide to getting a divorce. Impartial advice from the official Government website.