When parents separate, their first thought is often about their family and the effects of parental separation on children. 

At Watson Morris, we are lawyers specialising in all areas of family law, including divorce and separation. We work closely with our clients to try and keep the impact of the separation to a minimum for all involved. 

Effects of parental separation on children 

The excellent resources provided by Resolution (see How Important is the Voice of the Child | Resolution ) show that children, like the adults involved, will react emotionally to the separation of their parents. Their experience and the effects of parental separation on children will depend upon their age and personality. The way in which their parents decide to deal with the separation will also have an effect on the way the children process and deal with their feelings.

Other experts highlight different factors that affect children; for example, a young child is likely to feel that acrimony and divorce between parents are their fault. They may feel over-responsible, ashamed and guilty. 

Factors affecting children during parental separation

The overall feelings of children during their parent’s separation may be greater when there is a high degree of acrimony between parents. There may be problems surrounding communication or a refusal to accept a new status quo. Some parents become victims and rely on their child/children for support. They may broadcast too much information or insist that the child choose to love one parent more than another and show this preference with any number of behaviours.

Once this pattern becomes entrenched, the child is in for a tough time. If a child must choose who to ‘side’ with, they risk losing the other parent, which is a huge amount of pressure for a child to have to endure. They can get trapped in an impossible situation. They cannot be themselves, and that is because they live on eggshells, working out what will please the fighting parents the most and how they can keep their dysfunctional family happy. 

This has been described to me as living in separate corners of a boxing ring and never having a chance to live on their own secure ground. Lack of a secure ground will, of course, breed insecurity.

Often, the reason that fighting between parents becomes more intense is when there is a period of transition. Examples of this are when houses must be changed, finances need restructuring, new partners are introduced, or babies come into the picture. Previously manageable arrangements can get tripped up, and all the old acrimony can rise to the surface again. 

How to minimise the effects of parental separation on children

What, then, are the alternatives when parents want to minimise the effects of parental separation on children? Resolution provides some excellent materials to help parents to navigate a way through these issues. See Parenting through Separation | Resolution We would encourage all parents facing these issues to take a look. Hence, they have a better understanding of what their child will be experiencing and how they can be shielded from the fallout of their parent’s separation.

In our experience, children hate the idea of court proceedings, and this is one of the elements where children feel the effects of the separation most. 

Court proceedings take a lot of time and hard work, which can lead to a feeling of abandonment for the children as it takes their parents away from them. 

The stress in each household becomes tangible. This may result in children knowing more about the case than the parents realise despite their best efforts. Although, sometimes, the involvement of the children in the case is entirely deliberate. This is another unfortunate area which undoubtedly leads to negative effects of separating parents on children. 

Therapy for children during divorce

In cases where children become too involved in their parent’s separation, or any case where the parents think they need it, therapy is useful for children. It means they have a safe place to unload. 

They must also be given permission and space to have their own lives with their friends and concentrate on their schoolwork, having fun, and growing up.

Avoid court if possible 

Mediation is much better than court, if possible, and we would always advocate trying that route before any other. If that fails, then court might be the last resort, but it does not always bring finality and can cause more effects on children.

In cases involving older children, child-inclusive mediation can help reduce the effects of parental separation on children. Child-inclusive mediation involves children directly in the mediation process. The goal of child-inclusive mediation is to provide children with a safe and supportive environment to express their views and concerns and to help parents make decisions that are in the best interests of their children.

Whilst court proceedings are sometimes needed in difficult cases involving welfare issues, they should not be the first option. Experience shows that problems are best solved when people talk, and support is available if you need a helping hand.

Handling communication to minimise effects of parental separation on children

During parental separation, there are often communication issues. Sometimes, communication difficulties can be overcome by simple technology solutions such as OurFamilyWizard. This is a comprehensive app that offers features such as messaging, expense tracking, journaling, and third-party access for professionals. See OurFamilyWizard | The Best Coparenting App. This avoids the risks inherent in managing time between two households.

Separation and divorce with Watson Morris 

If you are worried about the effects of parental separation on children, contact our team today. We work with families through separation to help keep negative effects to a minimum and ensure the welfare of everyone involved. 

For more information or a no-obligation discussion, please get in touch with us today. 

Written by Peter Morris

November 28, 2023

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