CHILDREN AND DIVORCE
Our expert shares his expertise on how couples should handle a divorce, especially when kids are involved. By Kate Ng
Strategies for handling a divorce when kids are involved.
Getting a divorce can be messy, stressful and devastating – really taking a toll on your mental and emotional wellbeing. The whole situation becomes even more complicated if the divorce is not mutual, and there are children to think about as well. Custody battles can sometimes get ugly, so making sure the children feel loved by both mum and dad is imperative to helping them process the divorce.
THE BIG D
First, it’s important to understand the divorce process. The most troublefree route is a mutual divorce, where both parties agree on all terms and work together to find solutions that will benefit them both. These divorces are usually resolved within two to three months. In the event either party does not agree, the party that wants to initiate the divorce will have to go through a tribunal, where a middleman steps in to try and work out a solution. If the couple fails to reconcile, the tribunal issues a certificate, which allows the party initiating the divorce to file for it without worrying about the other’s refusal.
The next thing to think about is, how do you tell your children? Dato’ Arunan says that children nowadays are more mature and can understand what’s going on. “It’s actually unhealthy for children
to see conflicts and physical fights between their parents – it’s very traumatising,” he says. “It’s important to not fight in front of your children. You should also sit down with your ex-partner and discuss how you are going to break the news to the children.”
YOUR ROLE AS A PARENT
Sometimes, children blame themselves for the divorce, and this guilt can be carried forward well into adulthood. And, it’s true that many couples do fight because of their children. “It’s a horrible thing because for the rest of their lives, these children blame themselves for what transpired.” Dato’ Arunan also strongly advises against using your children as instruments against your ex-partner, as it really does them harm. On the other hand, parents shouldn’t just sweep it under the rug when it comes to the children.
“They will wonder why their parents aren’t sleeping together and live separately. The kids are growing up and they’re not stupid, they need to know. You must give them the assurance that just because you don’t get along with their father any more, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them,” he says. The custody process may seem frightening to start with, but Dato’ Arunan says that in most cases, mothers are granted custody of the children up till their teenage years – as long as the mother is capable physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“Stay-at-home mums often worry about the financial burden they may have to take on when they get custody of the children. But they don’t need to, because they can make an application to the court to request that the ex-husband pays for maintenance of the household and the children,” he clarifies.
Children have some say in the custody process – but not in all cases – and the judge will take into consideration an older child’s wish to remain with one parent. “But judges are also wary of either parent influencing the children in their favour. This tends to happen closer to the hearing date. Sometimes the parent in question doesn’t even bother about the children, but one or two weeks before the date of the hearing, he or she will start to buy presents and take them for holidays, just to psychologically reassure the children that they are taken care of,” says Dato’ Arunan.
Children react to divorce in different ways, and some lash out more than others. Dato’ Arunan says that the worst reactions he has seen always involve children who used to do well in school or socially, but begin to seek out bad influences because they feel their parents don’t respect or care for them. “Sometimes they feel very insecure about the future, and no longer see the point in anything,” he elaborates.
THE WORRY THAT FOLLOWS
It’s also of great concern to him when there is abuse or violence in the family. “In violent situations, where one parent beats the other, children think it’s okay and then do the same in school by bullying other children,” he says.
“If you can handle the situation in a constructive way, then you wouldn’t have to put your kids through therapy. There are pros and cons to therapy, and it depends on the therapist you’re seeing – you know your children best. They may also feel that going to a therapist or psychiatrist means they have mental problems, causing them to become unable to manage their thoughts.”
Watch our Hang Out with Her World discussion on this topic on our YouTube channel