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How to support your child through your divorce or separation

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Statistics show that over half of divorcing couples have at least one child at the time of their divorce but, of course, many more children go through parental separation each year because these statistics do not include parents who have not been married.  Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, Sam Miles, Family Law Partner, explains here the effects that a divorce or separation can have on the children and how parents can attempt to work together to minimise those.

When parents make the difficult decision to live apart, it of course also impacts upon their children.  The consequence for the child will vary depending upon a number of factors including the nature of the separation, the age of the child and the support the child gets from parents, family and friends.

University College London’s Institute of Education recently conducted a study to analyse the emotional impact of separation and divorce upon children. Brought about by the pressure on the Government to introduce a ‘no fault’ divorce system, the study surveyed 6,245 children aged between 3 and 14.

The study revealed that children whose parents separated when they were between the ages of 7 and 14 are 16% more likely to experience behavioural issues and emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, compared to those children whose parents stay together.  Children aged 3-7 years showed no difference in behavioural and emotional traits to those whose parents were still together.  Boys aged 7 to 14 were particularly affected with an 8% increase in levels of bad behaviour and disobedience.

However, other research suggests that differences between children whose parents have separated and those who have not are more likely to be caused by factors other than the separation itself.  Research consistently shows that a child’s wellbeing is more affected by the ongoing relationships within their family, regardless of who they live with, rather than by whether their parents remain together.  Ongoing conflict between the parents is a more significant factor than the separation itself.  In fact, research shows that where there has been ongoing and severe conflict in a relationship, separation may help to improve the situation for a child.

“The current ‘blame game’ that surrounds divorce can often lead to increased animosity between separating parents and that of course can directly and detrimentally affect children,” explains Sam.   “The process of separating will be emotional and stressful for a child as well as for the couple and it is very important to remember that a separation or divorce affects not only you, but your children and wider family.”

If you are thinking of separating from your partner or beginning the divorce process then you should try to be mindful of your children’s feelings and how the situation will affect them.  Hostility between parents, even minor, can cause children distress.  Children caught in the middle, passing on messages between parents or being asked to choose will be at risk of depression and anxiety. Where parents decide that they no longer wish to remain as a couple, they will usually both continue to have an important role to play in their children’s lives and co-parenting as far as possible is likely to have the best outcome for the child.

Reaching amicable agreements for your children’s future is crucial for their wellbeing, but we do understand that this is not always possible.  Our Family and Divorce Solicitors can help you through your divorce with compassion, and can also explain how Family Mediation may be of benefit to reaching agreements.  To contact Sam or the team today, call 023 8071 7431 or email   


This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.