Today’s Daily Mail carries an article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown which deals with the often hidden effects on children of the divorce or separation of their parents. The article mentions a documentary to be shown on BBC2 tonight at 9pm called 'Mum and Dad Are Splitting Up'. I suspect that the programme will be difficult to watch but compelling nonetheless.
The article comments on a number of cases in which Children, generally in their late teens and early twenties (if people of that age can be described as children) discuss the pain and trauma they went through following their parents’ Relationship Breakdown. A common theme seems to be that their wishes were never considered by their parents. Also, parents were unable or unwilling to provide any sort of explanation as to why the hitherto apparently stable domestic arrangements were to be terminated.
As a family lawyer, I do not share the article’s view that “walking away is all too easy”. I also firmly believe that no-one gets married with one eye on Divorce. That may be simplistic but I have seen at very close quarters the pain that separation causes for everyone involved and it is rarely a decision taken lightly. It would certainly help if the plans for “no fault” divorce could be re-introduced as this would undoubtedly remove a significant level of acrimony when it is most needed.
Children are often shielded from the problems that exist in adult relationships but when things go irretrievably wrong, I believe parents have a duty to explain their decisions fully and honestly to their children, in terms that those children can easily understand. This is not easy, and I am not naïve enough to expect this to happen in every case. I am also not naïve enough to believe that the reason for a break up is exclusively down to one parent. In the vast majority of cases, there are faults on both sides of the line. Where possible, separating parents should sit down together with their children and talk it through. Very hard, I know, but I also know that if you can do it, it really works.
Communication is absolutely vital. Children are inevitably damaged by their parents’ separation. How that damage is treated and healed can be a testament to how well parents separate.
By Family Law Solicitor Ed Kitchen.