New polling has found that around eight out of ten children and young people with experience of parental separation or divorce would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy, rather than stay together.
The poll of young people aged 14-22 with experience of parental separation, which was carried out by ComRes on behalf of family law organisation Resolution, has revealed fresh insights from children about the levels of involvement and amount of information they would like during their parents’ divorce. The findings are released ahead of a Parliamentary launch of new advice for divorcing parents.
An overwhelming majority (82%) of the young people surveyed said that, despite their feelings at the time, they felt it was ultimately better that their parents divorced rather than stay together unhappily. Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, 'Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms'; while another suggests children 'will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best'.
Key findings from the research shows that children and young people want greater involvement in decision-making during the divorce process:
62% of children and young people polled disagreed with the statement that their parents made sure they were part of the decision-making process about their separation or divorce.
Half of young people (50%) indicate that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live (49%) following their parents’ separation or divorce. Importantly, 88% say it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents
Around half (47%) say that they didn’t understand what was happening during their parents’ separation or divorce
Two in ten (19%) agree that they sometimes felt like the separation or divorce was their fault.
When asked what they’d most like to have changed about their parents’ divorce, 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to be horrible about each other to them, and 30% said they would have liked their parents to understand what it felt like to be in the middle of the process.
Positively, Resolution’s research also showed that many parents are handling their separation admirably. 50% of young people agreed that their parents put their needs first during their separation or divorce.
Speaking about the new findings, Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said:
'This new information shows that, despite the common myth that it’s better to stay together “for the sake of the kids”, most children would sooner have their parents divorce rather than remain in an unhappy relationship.
Being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself. This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process, and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce.
We should be supporting parents to choose an out of court divorce method, such as mediation or collaborative practice. This will help parents to maintain control over the divorce and ensure their children’s needs are, and remain, the central focus.'
Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles said:
'Evidence suggests that it’s parental conflict which has the most damaging effect on children and we see this played out in the counselling room every day.
Of course, children usually find their parents’ separation extremely upsetting but as this research demonstrates, eventually many come to terms with the situation and adjust to changes in family life. There are plenty of steps that separating parents can take to ensure they reduce the negative impact on their children such as working to avoid constant arguing or speaking badly of the other parent in front of the kids.
Parents can also involve their children by providing age appropriate and relevant information about the divorce or separation and what it means for them. Trying to understand children’s needs will make them feel secure and loved during this difficult time. Separating parents could also consider accessing support such as individual counselling, couples counselling, family counselling and mediation.'
Parenting expert and author Sue Atkins said:
'Children want to feel involved and empowered with relevant information about their parents’ divorce and what it means for them. They also want to see their parents behaving responsibly, such as to not argue in front of them.
That so many children report their relationships with family members remain unchanged after a divorce shows the value in parents seeking advice to support them to find positive solutions to their disputes.
As the long distance parent, Dads must work hard to maintain their relationship with their child. They may feel angry that this task falls on their shoulders since they may not have initiated the divorce in the first place and it's easy to feel like a victim and spend their time and energy blaming their ex. But I don't advise that as it's far better to focus on what you can do to stay involved and active in your child's life. Being a long distance parent doesn't mean that a dad has to automatically disappear from their child's life. It just requires some creativity and cooperation to pull it off successfully.'
The survey results support the main advice Resolution shares in its Parenting Charter, which sets out what children should be able to expect from their parents during a divorce.
These include children’s rights to:
be at the centre of any decisions made about their lives;
feel and be loved and cared for by both parents;
know and have contact with both sides of their families, including any siblings who may not live with them, as long as they are safe;
a childhood, including freedom from the pressures of adult concerns such as financial worries.
At a special event with MPs and Peers in Parliament later this week, Resolution will be calling for the Government to share the Charter with all divorcing parents. The event will also see the launch of an online advice guide at www.resolution.org.uk/divorceandparenting developed by Resolution to help divorcing parents manage their relationship with their children and with each other during separation.