Children in Divorce

Separation and divorce can be a challenging and upsetting time for all involved. But even though the relationship between the adults has ended, their role as parents has not stopped. It is important to make sure the children get the support they need.

Divorce is a process in which children have no choice but to participate. What children are told and, more significantly, the consideration given to their emotional as well as physical needs has a very important impact on their adjustment and future psychological development.

The challenges for older children

The previous culture of "staying together for the sake of the children" seems to have given a rise in the number of young adults seeing their parents separate. It is often believed that adult children will somehow manage divorce better. However, from our experience, both gender and age affect children's reactions to divorce. 

Upon dealing with the break-up of their family, older children also face a bewildering challenge to their own identity, as their solid family unit disappears and leaves them having to reappraise themselves, rethink their future, and perhaps their past too. This can create additional stress to the already difficult time of working towards final exams at school or finding their feet at university. On top of all this, they may be brought in as a confidante, judge or sounding board by a parent. 

Where there is a dispute about a child's future, a child arrangements order will resolve the parents' disagreement. But the law is clear that no court shall make such an order which will apply to a child once that child is sixteen unless the circumstances are "exceptional".

How to Support Children in Divorce

How children aged 13-16 tend to react

  • They can express anger with their parents, accusing them of selfishness, separating from the family unit.
  • They may make desperate appeals for their parents to reunite.
  • They will need time alone to work out their own reactions to the separation.
  • They could try and manipulate conflicts between parents.
  • They may react with anger and rejection if pressured by one parent.
  • They could regress, expressing more childlike behaviours.

Most certainly, this age group may find help and support outside the family unit useful, such as counselling and therapy.

What older children need

  • Reassure your children of your consistent and life-long love and support.
  • Release them from the burden of taking sides and keeping secrets. Give them your permission and approval (save where their safety could be compromised) to maintain a relationship with the other parent.
  • Reassure your children of your intention to reach a good solution with the other parent and make it clear that you don't depend on your child's support to do so.
  • Warn them that the process of divorce and separation isn't easy and that you may seem a little cranky from time to time.
  • Find a form of words to explain the family breakdown that your children can use as well as you and ideally, adopt it jointly with the other parent. You will find that it releases you from being caught up in the tittle-tattle around your separation.

To support children during separation and help them with their worries, you should:

  • Remind them that they are loved by both parents.
  • Be honest when talking about it, but keep in mind the child's age and understanding.
  • Avoid blame – don't share any negative feelings the adults have about each other.
  • Keep up normal routines, such as school activities, specific meals, and bedtimes.
  • Let them know they can talk about their feelings with you and explain that it's okay to be sad, confused or angry.
  • Listen more than you speak. Answering questions will help them to open up.

Here to help

If you have any more questions or would like more information, you can contact our Family Law Team below.

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