Supporting your Child During Divorce or Separation

Supporting your Child During Divorce or Separation

Children are vulnerable to relationship breakdown. They often try to protect parents by not expressing what they are feeling and often because of this parents underestimate what their children are experiencing.  Your child is likely to experience feelings of loss, hurt sadness and anger.

Research shows that most children fear that they have done something to cause their parents to separate – they think that it is in some way their fault.

The well being of your child depends on you, as the parent, being able to set aside your differences and learn to work together to co-parent your child into the future.

You should aim to limit the damage of the divorce and it is your responsibility to support your child by:

  • Minimising the conflict around your child
  • Supporting the relationship with the other parent
  • Spending time to understand the needs of your child, and
  • Being prepared to get outside help for you and your child

Research shows that a child’s initial response to relationship breakdown is likely to be:

  • Feelings of shock, bewilderment and loneliness when they hear the news that their parents are separating
  • Most children express a preference for their parents’ marriage to continue
  • An inability to understand why their parents have separated
  • Sadness and anxiety about possibly losing touch with the parent that no longer lives with them
  • Fantasies about their parents getting back together
  • All children will feel upset even if they do not say so or show it

Preschool Children

Approximately 2 months post-separation; children can become frightened and confused. They may become clingy and act immaturely. Young children of this age are not old enough to know how to understand voice or control their feelings.

Boys are prone to becoming aggressive and actively seek out male affection and attention. Because they become aggressive and confrontational they risk becoming isolated and shunned by their parents and other children.

How you can help

Talk to your child simply and repeatedly about the separation.  Try to maintain their routine and family rules.

Children aged 6-9 years

Children of this age group often cry and display sadness. Missing the departed parent is the most common concern.  Boys often “act out” and show signs of aggression.

Children may also express guilt as though it is their fault that the marriage has broken down.  This age group may also openly urge their parents to get back together.

How you can help

It is healthy to allow children to cry and mourn the loss of the family as they knew it.  Tell your child that it is not their fault and acknowledge and tell them that you understand their sadness.

Children aged 9 to 11 years

This age group tend to become very angry about their parents’ divorce.  They may blame their parents or even reject them.  Boys are likely to become aggressive whereas girls are likely to become withdrawn. Performance at school is likely to be affected as well.

How you can help

It is important for you to accept that your child will be angry. This acceptance will help to disperse the child’s feeling of impotence over an event that they do not wish to happen. Tolerating anger is the most helpful way of managing these feelings.

Adolescents

Adolescents get angry and feel pain at the loss of the family they have known.  They may express worries about the future of the family and the well being of younger siblings.

The danger of a child assuming adult-like burdens is that his or her own feelings of sadness and concerns are glossed over which could lead to them feeling unsupported and even emotionally abandoned.

How you can help

Adolescents still need parents to parent them. You need to try hard to maintain family rules and routine.

Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • Give as much reassurance to your child as possible
  • Give repeated advice about what is happening in ways that they can understand
  • Be receptive to their enquiries and perceptions
  • Encourage a child in pursuing a relationship with the other parent
  • Reassure the child that as parents you can manage, they are not responsible for helping you
  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings

Do Not

  • Be critical of the other parent
  • Do anything that would undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • “lean on” older children
  • Ignore children’s feelings or questions
  • Assume that children who appear okay on the outside are not suffering: they need reassurance
  • Don’t involve the children in your own battles

Grandparents dos and don’ts

All too often, wider members of the family are affected by divorce. Their feelings of loss and sadness are often overlooked. So far as grandchildren are concerned here are some useful tips

Do

  • Be careful about giving advice
  • Allow other people to help as well, and provide a breathing space
  • Respect your grand children’s confidence- it may be easier for them to talk to you
  • Make your time available to help look after the grandchildren

Do Not

  • Criticise your son or daughter in law to the grandchildren

The Law

The welfare principle.

When a court decides an issue about the upbringing of a child, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. The most important factor is what is best for the child.

The law sets out a number of things the court should bear in mind known as the welfare checklist:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child involved (considered in the light of his or her age and understanding)
  • Their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on them of any change in his circumstances
  • Their age, sex, background and any of their characteristics that the court considers relevant
  • Any harm that they have suffered or are at risk of suffering
  • How capable each of his or her parents and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant is of meeting his or her needs

Contact Lindsay Jones Specialist Child Law Solicitor Cheshire, Manchester, Altrincham, Lymm, Knutsford & Wilmslow

When it comes to your children, you need a specialist divorce lawyer with years of experience in helping settle family matters. Every family is different, and that is why I ensure I get to know your circumstances to build a bespoke legal strategy. For bespoke advice, please get in touch by calling 0161 509 6241 or by completing the online contact form.

COVID-19 Update from Lindsay Jones

During these extraordinary times, I remain open for business and will be happy to help you should you require legal advice. In line with government advice, I will be working from home and can be contacted on 0161 509 6241 or lindsay@lindsayjonesdivorcelawyer.co.uk.

I wish you all the very best. Stay safe and stay well.