How to pro­tect your chil­dren if you split

CHIL­DREN CAN BE USED AS WEAPONS WHEN PAR­ENTS SEP­A­RATE. FAM­ILY EX­PERTS TELL LISA SALMON HOW TO SHIELD THEM FROM THE STRESS OF A BIT­TER DIVORCE

Gloucestershire Echo - - FAMILY MATTERS -

IT’S es­ti­mated that 42% of mar­riages end in divorce, and sadly many of them are bit­ter. But what’s even sad­der is when the sep­a­rat­ing cou­ple’s chil­dren get dragged into the fight be­tween their par­ents, and are used as emo­tional weapons, which can be hugely dam­ag­ing for them.

The fight may end up in court, and this year there’s been a 7% in­crease in child dispute ap­pli­ca­tions be­ing made to court, which can be even more stress­ful and dam­ag­ing to chil­dren.

Lawyer Georgie Hall, a fam­ily law ex­pert and part­ner at Pret­tys law firm (pret­tys.co.uk), stresses com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key to re­solv­ing prob­lems and avoid­ing a stress­ful court case.

“Of­ten, peo­ple be­lieve the le­gal process can de­liver the un­de­liv­er­able,” she says. “The court process strug­gles to al­ter parental be­hav­iour – it’s up to the two peo­ple in­volved to do that. What can be use­ful is to get the par­ents to open up a dis­cus­sion to see which el­e­ments ben­e­fit from the le­gal frame­work and which most ben­e­fit from other non-lawyer, chil­dren­fo­cused ex­perts.”

Here, Georgie and Karen Woodall of the Fam­ily Separation Clinic (fam­il­y­sep­a­ra­tionclinic.com), co-au­thor of Putting Your Chil­dren First (Pi­atkus, £8.50), out­line im­por­tant ways to pro­tect chil­dren from stress dur­ing a bit­ter divorce bat­tle.

Cre­ate a new par­ent­ing re­la­tion­ship

GEORGIE says chil­dren ben­e­fit from see­ing par­ents be­ing able to work to­gether as par­ents, even if the mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ship is end­ing. She says par­ents should fo­cus on what they both want for their chil­dren, and keep them away from the con­flict.

“Un­der­stand the need to end the spousal re­la­tion­ship and re­in­force the pos­i­tive com­mon ground be­tween you,” she ad­vises. “Most chil­dren will ben­e­fit from bite-size, age-ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion about what’s hap­pen­ing, rather than exposure to arguments and crit­i­cism by one par­ent of the other.”

Re­mem­ber you’re di­vorc­ing but your chil­dren aren’t

KAREN says chil­dren who un­der­stand their par­ents’ per­sonal re­la­tion­ship is dif­fer­ent from their par­ent­ing re­la­tion­ship do best.

“Al­ways help chil­dren un­der­stand you’re par­ent­ing to­gether by re­mind­ing them the par­ent they’re not with loves them and wants them to feel safe,” she says, ad­vis­ing par­ents to show chil­dren the co-par­ent­ing by draw­ing up basic rules to be shared in each home, up­dat­ing them as the chil­dren grow.

Put aside your feel­ings when the chil­dren are around

CHIL­DREN are very good at pick­ing up on un­spo­ken mes­sages, Karen points out. “They’ll seek to take care of you if they think you can’t cope, and that puts them in the wrong place in the fam­ily. “Their role is to be chil­dren – they’ll cope if you can put aside your per­sonal feel­ings and fo­cus on their needs and their well­be­ing.”

Let chil­dren know what’s hap­pen­ing but don’t make them choose be­tween par­ents

CHIL­DREN never want to be in a po­si­tion where they’re choosing be­tween their par­ents, Karen says, and yet it’s very easy to slip into do­ing what the chil­dren say they want to do sim­ply be­cause a par­ent feels guilty.

“Chil­dren shouldn’t have to choose who they spend time with. They should be guided to know both their par­ents love them and want the best for them,” she ex­plains.

Have a round-ta­ble dis­cus­sion

USE a con­struc­tive process to re­solve the end­ing of the mar­riage and use a solic­i­tor with strong lis­ten­ing skills and ex­pe­ri­ence in dis­cur­sive (talk­ing) practice, ad­vises Georgie. Try a dis­cur­sive ap­proach through your solic­i­tor such as me­di­a­tion, collaborat­ive or round ta­ble.

“These are all based on the benefits achieved by a con­struc­tive rather than de­struc­tive style,” ex­plains Georgie. “Listen to the ad­vice given so the heat of emo­tions isn’t al­lowed to de­rail progress. Fo­cus­ing on what re­ally mat­ters long-term takes some dis­ci­pline.”

Use your ex­pert to try court avoid­ance

AS­SESS with your solic­i­tor whether the shift to the co-par­ent­ing role re­quires changes in be­hav­iour for any­one in the fam­ily, ad­vises Ge­or­gia.

“Deep-seated changes in be­hav­iour and ap­proach tend not to be achieved through tak­ing the other per­son to court,” she stresses. “A judge can’t wave a magic wand to im­prove par­ent­ing skills.”

How­ever, she says some­times a court order is needed, par­tic­u­larly if there’s a risk of harm to some­one in the fam­ily.

Bring in ap­pro­pri­ate ex­perts if needed

IF a court order isn’t es­sen­tial, work with a child spe­cial­ist to im­prove parental com­mu­ni­ca­tion, parental be­hav­iour and the out­come for the chil­dren.

“Your solic­i­tor may be only part of the an­swer and can help you work with other pro­fes­sion­als such as psy­chol­o­gists and coun­sel­lors,” says Georgie.

Think about your child’s voice

OB­VI­OUSLY, this depends on your child’s age and un­der­stand­ing, says Georgie. Young chil­dren can ex­press what they want but are less likely to dis­tin­guish be­tween that and what’s best for them, in the way teenagers can. “Ideally, hear­ing from a child should be based on the child hav­ing space to ex­press pos­i­tively, rather than be­ing placed un­der pres­sure,” Georgie ex­plains.

“It can be easy to merge what you think is best, into the voice of the child. Chil­dren will of­ten want to please their par­ents and can find it hard to dis­ap­point ei­ther par­ent by tak­ing a con­trary view.” Your solic­i­tor can help in round-ta­ble work to use ap­pro­pri­ate child qual­i­fied ex­perts to bring out the child’s voice, while be­ing pro­tec­tive of the child/ par­ent re­la­tion­ship. Older chil­dren may find it help­ful to par­tic­i­pate in a process where they see their par­ents work­ing to­gether to iden­tify and over­come dif­fi­cul­ties.

Re­mem­ber change is hard for chil­dren

MANY chil­dren strug­gle with mov­ing

Adapt­ing your par­ent­ing style can help re­duce the up­set for chil­dren dur­ing a break-up

Lawyer Georgie Hall

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