Divorce: What it means to our children

Here at Prince Family Law we find that divorce is a topic discussed right across the web – and not just by other law firm sites or legal organisations. Divorce is an issue that touches nearly every family in the UK in some way or other. We’ve written before about how patterns of divorce in Britain are changing, but the high rate of divorce in this country seems to have become a permanent feature of our social and cultural landscape.  Netmums online Coffeehouse didn’t present us with any surprises then, when they posted this review of some research into how young people respond to their parents divorcing. It made for sombre reading.

My own parents divorced in 1972. This useful review of the statistics in relation to divorce from The Guardian tells me that, for reasons it isn’t easy to unravel, the number of divorces in the UK that year – 119,025 – had risen dramatically from the year before (which had seen only 74,437). We could speculate as to why there was such a substantial leap between these two adjacent years. It was, perhaps, somehow connected to the changing zeitgeist in our increasingly permissive society, the rise in feminism, the impact of 1960s youth culture, or the reduction in the influence of organised religion. But, at eighteen months old, I didn’t know or care about such things. I was, in reality, too young to know that this momentous decision had been made, one that would in part, shape my own life. As I made my way through primary school I did, however, note that this feature of my family life made me different to others; I would be 16 before I had a friend who also had divorced parents.

This is not how it is for today’s generation of young people. There were, ironically, in 2012 (the last year for which comprehensive data is available) slightly fewer divorces than in 1972, with the figure landing at 118, 140, with 48% occurring in households where at least one young person under 16 was present. That is not in and of itself a surprising statistic, and we have also looked before at the rise in re-constituted households and the complex family structures that have become routine in our society. But, while the chances are these days that nearly every child in any given school now knows another child who has divorced parents, we shouldn’t let this reality desensitise us to the often profound impact divorce can have on children.

The Netmums research noted that while 77% of parents thought their children had coped well with the divorce, only 18% of children were happy their parents were no longer together. A third of the children surveyed felt their parents had tried to turn them against one another. One in five had drunk alcohol, and one in nine had used illicit drugs to help them cope. I can’t help wondering why, in the 40 years that have passed since my own parents divorced, we haven’t somehow got better at helping young people to cope with this most significant of life events. As the site’s own founder, Siobhan Freegard, observes ‘While experts acknowledge it is better to come from a broken family than live in one, this research shows not enough is being done to support youngsters through the break-up process. While divorce maybe the best thing for many families, we have to ensure children are helped to understand the split isn’t their fault and that they are still loved.’

Here at Prince Family Law we have attempted to redress this balance in a previous post by directing divorcing couples to a range of books aimed specifically at helping children cope and we have also examined some positive strategies for reducing the negative impact on them. If you are currently worrying about how to save your children from the effects of your marriage breakdown, please do make use of these resources, as well as allowing us, through our Collaborative Law, Mediation and other services, to be of assistance.