How can I reduce the impact of divorce on my children?

Louise Butcher
Louise Butcher – Family Law Solicitor

It goes without saying that divorce can be extremely distressing for all concerned, and that of course includes any dependent children.

It is therefore essential that parents do all they can to reduce the impact of the divorce upon their children. The following ten tips can help you achieve that aim.

1) Reduce parental conflict

Much of what follows flows from this very important step. Divorce almost inevitably involves ill-feeling between the parents. And children will pick up on that ill-feeing. It is therefore essential that you try to reduce it to a minimum.

Remember that whatever happens, you and your (former) spouse will always be the parents of your children. Like it or not, you will have to deal with one another in the future, and the more ill-feeling between you, the more difficult this will be.

2) Never get into an argument in front of the children

And if you do have an argument with the other parent, make sure it does not take place in front of the children. The whole situation is likely to be stressful and upsetting for the children as it is, despite your best efforts, and subjecting them to parental in-fighting could be extremely traumatic.

3) Always put the children first

When you get divorced there are many decisions to be taken, including over living arrangements and finances. When making those decisions always put the welfare of your children first. Before making a decision ask yourself: am I doing this because it is the best for me, or because it is the best for the children?

And never encourage the children to take sides. The children may, if they have sufficient understanding, be asked for their views on arrangements for them. But trying to persuade them to favour you over the other parent is always going to be detrimental to their welfare, and will certainly be frowned upon by the court.

4) Keep the children informed

Unless they are very young, the children will pick up that there is something wrong. It is therefore important that you keep them informed as best you can about what is going on, so that they do not think that things are worse than they are. Of course how you go about this, and how much you tell them, will depend upon the child’s age and understanding.

Consider speaking to the children alongside the other parent. If the children see you both saying the same things then they will at least know that their parents are both ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

5) Communicate directly with the other parent, not through the children

You may find it difficult to speak to the other parent, but don’t be tempted to use the children as a conduit for messages between yourself and the other parent. It is simply not fair to the children for them to be used in this way, and is likely to cause them considerable stress.

6) Reassure the children that they are not to blame

Sometimes children will worry that the divorce is somehow their fault, even if they don’t say so directly. Make sure that you reassure them that they are not to blame.

7) Reassure them that they will still see both parents

By the same token, your children may worry that the divorce will mean that they will no longer see both of their parents. Reassure them that this will not be the case – and make sure that you agree proper arrangements with the other parent!

8) Where possible, keep the children’s routine the same

Parental separation will inevitably involve some changes for the children, who will be moving between two separate households. However, keeping their routine as ‘normal’ as possible will help the children adapt, and understand that the divorce does not necessarily mean everything will change.

Many children have busy ‘social lives’, meeting with friends, attending clubs, and so on. Try to ensure that these things will not change wherever possible, for example by arranging for the child to be with the best-placed parent on a club night.

9) Agree arrangements if you can

Possibly the most important tip here: do everything you reasonably can to agree arrangements for your children with the other parent! The last thing your children will need or want is to have their parents dragging each other through court, with all of the animosity and stress that contested court proceedings involve.

If you can’t agree arrangements directly with the other parent, try to do so through solicitors, and if that fails consider going to mediation, whereby a trained mediator will help you to try to reach agreement.

10) Consider drawing up a parenting plan

Lastly, if you are able to agree arrangements for your children with the other parent, you should consider drawing up a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a written plan worked out between parents after they separate, covering the practical issues of parenting.

Benefits of making a Parenting Plan include helping everyone involved know what is expected of them; acting as a reference to go back to; and setting out practical decisions about the children, such as living arrangements, education and health care.

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