Research from family law organisation Resolution has shown that 82% of young people with separated parents (aged 14-22) believed that it was better for their parents to divorce than stay together unhappily. And while there’s something admirable about parents who decide to stay together to provide a stable home for their children despite struggling in their own relationship, delaying divorce can take its toll on a couple – and a family – and in some cases do more harm than good. Every circumstance is unique, and there will be many pros and cons to weigh up, both practical and emotional, but ultimately, a happy parent is the best parent, and if that means separation, it could be the better choice.
It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from the upheaval and emotional impact of divorce as well as all the added complications like moving kids between two homes, dividing up childcare, holidays, school events and other responsibilities. Emotionally, parents may not believe that their children are ready to process a separation, or that it may cause lasting emotional damage, and although divorce is never an easy thing for anyone, being up front and honest about your feelings and the end of your relationship is always the healthiest way to move forward.
The longer parents stay in an unhappy marriage, the harder it can be on their family, and the harder it may be to work through long-term resentment and anger when it finally comes to divorce—potentially adding years of stress to the whole household. Children pick up on tension in the home and model their own perceptions of love and relationships on what they see, so if their blueprint is an unhappy couple who are constantly bickering, passive aggressive, or pushing down their feelings, they could grow up with a skewed example of what an adult relationship should look like.
Kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for, but the best way to help them adjust to any major life change is to be open and honest; explain that sometimes relationships just come to an end, and that this can ultimately be a positive thing.
Family lawyer Frances Lindsay says: “I often hear people say they have been staying together ‘for the sake of the children’ and are worried about how separation will affect their kids. Sometimes these anxieties mean that they have stuck in an unhappy relationship for far too long. Children are very perceptive, and while they would of course prefer Mum and Dad to be together, they would also prefer not to be in household where their parents are unhappy. Parents often worry so much about the prospect of separation that they try to protect their kids from the reality of the situation, leaving them confused, uncertain and left out. The most important thing is for children to feel loved, safe, and secure. Be honest with them, involve them, and listen to them – they may well surprise you with their resilience.”
Resolution’s research and guidelines for separating parents suggests that what makes children feel most secure is the love and support of their parents—whether together or apart—as well as being informed and involved in important decisions that concern them, such as where they are going to live and how much time they spend with each parent. But it’s equally important that children don’t feel as if they are stuck in the middle, having to choose between their parents or given too much responsibility over what is essentially a decision between adults. Once again, modelling good behaviour is the key here. Show your children you can make it through a tough period with dignity and mutual respect, and you will all be stronger and happier for it.
Getting a divorce as parents is obviously an enormous decision with many moving parts to consider, and even after separation you will likely still have to maintain a ‘working relationship’ as co-parents for many years, so it can be helpful for couples to look into marriage counselling or some other form of support before they begin the process. While the aim may not be to ‘fix’ the issues within your relationship, it can help you to reconcile with some of the issues that have led to your decision to separate, and get the emotional side of things out of the way before you move on to more practical matters, paving the way for an amicable separation and a civil ongoing relationship as co-parents.
Collaborative approaches to separation like mediation, family arbitration and collaborative family law can really help to reduce animosity and encourage parental cooperation to figure out a way to move forward with children’s wellbeing in mind. Out of court methods also ensure that parents maintain control over the practical elements of divorce such as living arrangements and how to divide up time with the children.
For more advice on children’s issues, separation, and out-of-court methods of divorce, get in touch with our family law team at Frances Lindsay & Co. We understand that children are the most important thing in your lives, and will help you to make sure their wellbeing stays at the centre of every decision.