Parents' failure to separate amicably is leading to an increasing number of children losing permanent contact with their father, according to a study into the effects of family breakdown in the UK.
The study of over four thousand parents and children was commissioned by family lawyers at Mishcon de Reya. It found seventy per cent of parents surveyed cited their child's welfare as the main priority during separation, however a fifth of children said they felt used and a third felt isolated and alone. Many admitted they turned to drink and drugs, played truant from school or self harmed. For thirty-eight per cent of children the separation meant they never saw their father again.
Researchers surveyed 2,000 individuals who had experienced divorce or separation in the past twenty years as parents and 2,000 who had experienced it as children. The research was commissioned to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Children Act which was implemented in November 1989 to improve the welfare of youngsters caught in the middle of parental separation.
The law firm says that although the Act is well intentioned, in practice the law is not working. A quarter of parents surveyed believe that their child was so traumatised by their separation that they self harmed or contemplated suicide. Despite this, half of the parents admitted to deliberately protracting the legal process in order to secure their desired outcome and two thirds confessed to indiscriminately using their children as 'bargaining tools' when they separated.
A fifth of separated parents admitted that they actively set out to make their partners experience 'as unpleasant as possible' regardless of the effect this had on their children's feelings.
The study also found that half of the children surveyed said that their views were disregarded by both of their parents during the separation. A quarter admitted they were forced by one parent to lie to the other and fifteen per cent were asked to spy on their mother or father.
Mishcon de Reya's Head of Family Law Sandra Davis said: "This research shows that despite their best intentions, parents are often using their children as emotional footballs. They don't have the tools to co-parent effectively following separation and their only solution is to turn to the courts. Children - alongside the economy - are suffering because of this."
The law firm is now calling on the Government to set up National Family Therapy centres. These would be funded by diverting public expenditure on Legal Aid and savings on the running costs of the courts and Cafcass. Couples who would otherwise pay privately to go to court would be charged on a sliding scale, similar to counseling schemes run by charities such as Relate.
Ms Davis continued: "The millions of pounds spent each year on Legal Aid, running the courts and Cafcass could be better spent educating parents about their children's needs and gaining an understanding of how to resolve and avoid long term disputes and reduce hostility.
"Despite the best intentions of the judiciary, Cafcass, specialist family law practitioners and experts the process remains fundamentally adversarial and blame focused. Whilst the courts are able to impose solutions on parents, they can't resolve the root cause of disputes which is necessary before parents are able to co-parent effectively after they separate."