Children’s happiness and The Good Childhood Report 2012. How can we shield our children from the worst of our divorce?

Today’s report by the Children’s Society: “The Good Childhood Report 2012” highlights that the most important criterion for happy children is a stable and harmonious family life. There were five other conclusions, to include the way children feel about themselves and “achieving the right balance of time between schoolwork and leisure, and spending enough time in key social relationships with friends and family.”

My last Blog on 7 January 2012 talked about government policy to introduce a legal right for divorced parents to see their children ( At the time I said that this flew in the face of a government-commissioned report, headed by David Norgrove and published only last year, which specifically recommended no change in the law on this. He cited studies from Australia where such a law has been enacted, which suggest that children who lose any control over when they see their parents, are damaged by the experience.

In my 16 years of experience as a family solicitor, I can say that I can deal with my client’s disputes in an objective way. Although I can empathise with them, I do not take my work home with me. The only factor in my job that truly affects me is the plight of those children who are placed front and centre of their parents’ conflict.

It is quite easy to see why separating parents feel that is it extremely important that the children are on their side. They don’t want to incur their disapproval. But the unfortunate result of confiding in your children is that they are being informed of matters which really should be reserved for adult discussion. Being placed in this position leads to divided loyalties, and ultimately can irreparably destroy the child’s relationship with their mother or father. That in turn could impact upon that child’s own relationships in the future.

Upon a breakdown of a marriage, most children feel guilt and fear, that somehow they have been responsible. They need to know that both their parents love them, that that will never change, and that the adults will make arrangements for sorting out the mess, not the children. Fighting about how much contact (or access/visitation) one parent might have is destructive, as the child, in the main, needs a continuing bond with both parents, and a long gap in contact is often very difficult to bridge. On my website, I have listed some ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ about contact such as:

  • Tailor the contact arrangements to suit the child. The younger the child, the shorter but more frequent the contact visits should be.
  • Don’t shift the child from one parent to another every few days for contact, as he or she needs to have stability and may start to act up and resent the arrangements.
  • Do try to involve the children in the contact arrangements, As long as they are old enough, and ensure that they are aware of when they will be spending time with the other parent.
  • Never let a child down by being late or missing contact, unless it is unavoidable, in which case the other parent must be informed immediately there is a problem.
  • Don’t involve the child in the dispute with the other parent.
  • Do give the child permission to enjoy their contact time with the other parent.

If things are really bad between spouses or partners, the benefits of an out of court settlement far outweigh  having a judge decide on such issues at court.  Resolving a dispute through mediation or collaborative law is now quite widespread. Mediation is probably the cheapest way of achieving a settlement.

Studies show that it takes two years for people to get over a divorce. For children it can become something that stays with them for the rest of their lives, if we do not try to shield them from their parents’ conflict.