Posted on 19th February 2020
This year’s theme of #findyourbrave has particular empathies for children whose parents are going through divorce, family break down or who require specific support to navigate what can be a scary and confusing process. It is imperative for family solicitors to remember that they are not only dealing with a legal process but that they should also be ensuring that their Clients know how they can support their children and young people who will affected by the divorce.
Pulling from the archives of our experiences with family law here are some of our top tips to help children through the divorce process:
Share the news together:
Every forum, advice site, book and podcast will recommend that where appropriate both parents sit down with the child in person to explain exactly what is happening. It is also recommended that both parents have a conversation first in order that they may decide what they are going to say to the child. There are child specialists who can help assist in preparing a plan for the conversation and how to answer any difficult questions. The child should be reassured that despite what is happening both parents continue to love them and will always be there for them and there should be no suggestion that one parent is to blame for the separation. A useful phase to help comfort children is to explain that the couple are separating as a married couple but not as parents.
Present a united front:
Testing the boundaries. “But at dads we can stay up until 10pm” or “Mum lets us have sweets for our breakfast” it is completely normal for children to test the new boundaries with the new dynamic. So, it is important more than ever to ensure that both parents present a united front about things such as routines, chores and consequences for bad behaviour. This approach provides consistency and reassurance for children at a time when it is needed the most. It may be helpful to approach a mediator to ask for assistance in putting a written parenting plan in place. A parenting plan can be helpful for the “big” topics such as sex education, consumption of alcohol, piercings and the introduction of either parents’ new partners. It is important to note that whilst the parenting plan is not legally binding it can provide helpful indication of both parent’s previous views and intentions should a dispute occur in the future.
Whilst you may not wish to make your private life other people’s gossip, it is imperative that you share the news of your divorce or separation with other important adults in a child’s life. Explaining the situation to your Child’s teacher, for example, can help them be alert to changes in the child’s behaviour and be ready to provide extra support and reassurance. You may find that your child’s school have policies in place to ensure that both parents remain fully updated about things like parents evenings as well as wider pastoral support to help provide an outlet for Children who are worried about sharing how they feel for fear of adding to a parents worries.
Speak positively about the other parent:
No matter how badly you believe your former spouse has behaved towards you, you must remember that they remain your child’s parent. Criticising or blaming the other parent in front of your child can have lasting harmful affects and will often lead to a child feeling that they have to choose between their parents or hide their true feelings towards the other parent. Shielding the child as much as possible from parental conflict and encouraging their relationship with both parents is key to protecting them emotionally and mentally.
Seek specialist help
When children are showing signs of struggling with their mental health, whether during, after or outside of the divorce or separation process, early intervention by specialists can make a remarkable difference. A range of child-focussed therapies are available and can be tailored to a specific child’s age and needs, whether that be play or art therapy for very young children, family therapy attended by parents and children together, or one-on-one sessions with child psychologists for children with complex needs.
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