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At least one in three children will experience parental separation before the age of 16. Most of these children go through a period of unhappiness; many experience low self-esteem, behaviour problems, and loss of contact with part of the extended family.
Children are usually helped by good communication with both parents, and most settle back into a normal pattern of development. However, a small minority experience continued problems; sometimes these problems – including poorer employment prospects and family disruption - continue into adulthood. The factors thought to be associated with increased risk of poor outcomes following divorce and separation include financial hardship, high levels of parental stress, and experiencing more than one set of change in family circumstances. For example, separation may be followed by a new relationship for either parent which may in turn be followed by new step-siblings and by the birth of half-siblings to the child's parent and his or her new partner. These new partnerships may also end in separation; subsequently either parent may embark on a further new relationship involving steps or half-siblings.
The quality of relationships between parents and children and between parents themselves is important in helping children adjust to life after separation. Children also need to be informed of and involved in decisions about what happens in the family.
Becoming part of a step-family seems to be helpful for younger children but to be harder for older children to adapt to. Older children seem to appreciate step-parents more when they act in a supportive and friendly way, rather than being involved in discipline or control.
Wider kin networks, especially grandparents, can play an important part in supporting children and grandchildren around the time of separation. They are an additional resource when one parent is absent and the other is upset, and can communicate with their grandchildren while supporting their own child.
Many of the researchers found that children had a range of different ways of coping and of needs for support and communication, which may be met in different ways.
Some children and parents need informal or professional help. In providing that help to children, we need to focus on the child’s view of the world rather than being preoccupied by the breakdown in the parent’s relationships as partners. As well as parents - grandparents and friends are key figures for the children.
Separating parents need practical help with housing, payment of household bills and early legal advice
Others face difficulties in organising time with their children, especially when they have long or irregular working hours and accommodation which is not suitable for extended visits. Providing sufficient space to allow both parents to offer reasonable comfort and overnight stays with the children requires considerable resources.
Working together as parents is hard where there is conflict in a relationship and even harder after separation or divorce. Arranging contact between the children and the non-resident parent requires a sustained effort by both parents. Non-resident parents must accept that their role has changed from when they shared a home with the child. Parents with care must accept that they need to actively facilitate contact arrangements, even if their own relationship with their former partner is not amicable. Contact can be so conflicted that we may need to accept it may sometimes be necessary for the parents to go their separate ways at least for the time being.
The key observation made by researchers throughout the programme suggests that:
It may be helpful for those going through the separation process to consider the following.
At Myerson our Family Team understands that not seeing your child every day is one of the hardest parts of separation. Our accredited specialists provide you with swift, reliable advice to assist you in securing the best outcome.