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GCSEs and A-level results 'suffering' as a direct result of parental break-up

Date:24 NOV 2014
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Young people’s futures at stake as 19% don’t get the exam results they were hoping for; 15% move schools; 32% say parents tried turning them against one another; 14% turn to alcohol.

Young people feel their exam results are suffering as a direct result of parental break-up according to a major new survey of teens and young adults published today. The survey of 14-22 year olds also finds that parental separation is leading young people to turn to alcohol and skipping lessons, while some admit to experimenting, or thinking about experimenting, with drugs.

Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution – the body representing 6,500 family law professionals in England and Wales which commissioned the research – said:

'These new findings show the wide-ranging impact of divorce and separation on young people. It underlines just how important it is that parents going through a split manage their separation in a way that minimises the stress and impact on the entire family, especially children, otherwise their exam results could suffer. Divorce and separation is always traumatic, but there is a better way to deal with it.'

Exam results suffering:

The survey of 14-22 year olds asked how a parental break-up had directly affected them. The survey found that one in five (19%) say they didn’t get the exam results they were hoping for. The majority (65%) say that their GCSE exam results were affected while 44% say A-levels (44%) suffered. What’s more, 15% said they had to move schools, which may have had a knock-on effect on exam results.

The poorer-than-expected exam results might partly be explained by changes in behaviour, as a direct result of parental separation, that the survey uncovered: Almost a quarter (24%) said that they struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments. And more than one in 10 (11%) said they found themselves 'getting into more trouble at school, college or university,' with 12% confessing to skipping lessons.

Turning to alcohol and changing eating habits:

The survey finds that parental break-up can impact on young people’s health. 14% of the young people surveyed said they started drinking alcohol, or drinking more alcohol than previously,while almost three in ten (28%) said that they started eating more or less than previously. Arguably most concerning of all, 13% admitted to experimenting, or thinking about experimenting with drugs as a result of their parents’ break-up.

Pressure from parents:

The survey also finds that many teens and young adults felt that their parents placed additional stresses on them during the process of break up. 32% of respondents said one parent tried to turn them against the other. And more than 1 in 4 (27%) said their parents tried to involve them in their dispute.

Impact of social media – pictures of new partners can be upsetting:

The survey also finds that the stress of their parents’ break-up for young people can be made worse by the impact of social media. Almost a quarter (23%) said that they found out on social media that one of their parents had a new partner. One in five (20%) said that their parents have upset or embarrassed them on social media, by posting something about their separation or divorce.

Other findings include almost 1 in 5 (19%) saying that they completely lost contact with one or more grandparents – a crucial issue in the context of the Government’s recently-launched “Family Test,” designed to ensure that policies support children’s relationships with their grandparents after divorce.

Speaking on the first day of 2014’s Family Dispute Resolution Week, Jo Edwards said:

'Each year around 100,000 children under 16 see their parents divorce. Almost half of all break-ups (48%) occur when there is at least one child in the relationship, and with 230,000 people in England and Wales going through a divorce each year (and many more separating), this is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of families in Britain every year.

Therefore it is crucial that couples do everything possible to resolve disagreements in an amicable way that minimises stress on all family members – particularly any children they may have.

It’s clear from our survey that children are suffering as a result of parental separation and that in some cases it’s exacerbated when parents place additional stresses on their children during their break-up. But there is a better way to manage your separation. That’s why we would encourage all separating couples to explore their options for an amicable divorce. There’s a free guide at www.resolution.org.uk/separatingtogether about the options available. Speak to a Resolution member, who will help you to find the right way forward for you, your family, and your children.'
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Molly Baker, a 16 year old from Sheffield, was 7 when her parents decided to split up, although their divorce wasn’t finalised until three years ago. She said:

'Having to live between two houses during the week means that often it can be difficult and stressful to remember all of my books and homework, for example, two days in advance. The divorce also affected my primary education because I would get taken out of lessons to talk to teachers about how I was feeling or about what was happening now in the proceedings, which meant I missed out on time in class. As I got older, it became easier to focus just on school work and receive the correct support and understanding in secondary education.'
Emma Austin, Home School Support Worker at Frederick Bremer School who recently appeared on Channel 4's Educating the East End, said:

'As someone who works with children every day, I witness the implications of family breakdown which can often have a devastating impact on children including on their school life.'
Separation: what options are available for separating couples?

There are many options available to couples to manage their separation, including mediation, collaborative practice and arbitration, together with solicitor negotiation.

These processes support couples to work together to decide what happens to their children after their separation, and how money and assets such as the family home will be divided. This can be quick and cost effective, giving people more control and enabling them to resolve their dispute and move on with their lives.
  • Mediation helps couples work things out together. It is not a form of relationship counselling, or a way to help a couple get back together. Instead it helps couples who are separating decide how to end their relationship. During mediation the couple, helped by a trained mediator, talk through the issues (such as money, children or any other consequences of the separation) that they need to solve, and work out what is best for them and their children. 
  • The collaborative process helps people work through the issues they need to resolve, with each partner having a specially trained lawyer by their side at each meeting and often a family therapist and financial advisor also. This process is a private way to solve problems without having to go to court, and offers each party support and legal advice as they go.
  • Family arbitration is a way of reaching a decision about finances or property for separating couples. Instead of going to court, both parties agree on the appointment of a family arbitrator to rule on specific issues of dispute. At the start of the process the couple agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision.
  • Solicitor negotiation - if mediation, arbitration or the collaborative process are not right, each party’s solicitors can negotiate an agreement, without the need for a lengthy court process. Issues between separating couples are often successfully resolved with the support and expertise of a Resolution member – in fact it is one of the most common ways of reaching agreement.
  • Negotiating your own agreement can be the cheapest and easiest way to reach a settlement following separation. This option isn’t suitable for everybody, but it can work if the couple have mutually agreed to separate, remain on good terms and generally agree on issues relating to their property and any children they have. It is still important to take legal advice to ensure the implications of the agreement are fully understood, and to ensure it is legally binding. 
  • Going to court will be the right option for some people, because agreement can’t be reached or there is a particularly difficult or unique aspect to the case. There is usually a legal requirement for couples to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before the court process begins, to see whether mediation or another process is right for them. Even if one or both parties decides to go to court, an agreement can be reached before a Final Hearing, and Resolution members will try to ensure this happens, and keep the stress and conflict to a minimum. If the couple cannot reach a final agreement, the judge will make a binding decision on what he or she thinks is fair.
Resolution’s research in 2013 found that 50% of UK adults agree that methods of divorce and separation such as mediation, negotiation and family arbitration are good for the wellbeing of children.