How can I best protect my child/ren with the divorce process?
When a parent’s emotions are heightened due to the divorce process, I often have client’s that will say that they are trying to maintain a brave face in their presence but their child/ren have picked up that something has changed. It is important that child/ren are protected from any adult conflict and inappropriate conversations in their presence about the divorce. In fact, Systemic Psychotherapist Lorraine Davies-Smith promotes emphasis be placed on ensuring children understand that they are not to blame and goes further to suggest that children are not in a situation where they are hearing blame pointed at either parent. “I am passionate about children not becoming pawns in a legal or emotional tussle between their parents. Parents should hold in mind, whilst they may be divorcing one another, they are not divorcing from their children nor their children from them. Also keeping as many of the children’s regular routines in place as possible helps the children to hold onto a sense of life is not completely changed and chaotic.” states Davies-Smith.
How important is it to communicate with your child/ren about the court proceedings?
Arguably, the most important aspect is being able to effectively communicate with your children the next steps so they feel reassured. However, the difficulty many face is that we don’t know how the child/ren will react so how do you work out what is the most effective way to speak to them.
I have found that over the years, it has been useful to follow these steps (not necessarily in this chronological order):
I will discuss with a client their interim living arrangements if they are at the early stages of their separation/divorce proceedings. If it is not possible for a husband and wife to continue to reside together, I will discuss with my client how they wish to speak to their child/ren about the separation/divorce process. I have found that this is helpful so that a husband and wife can have crucial conversations about how to best support the child/ren before they have the conversation. A husband and wife will then have the opportunity to potentially consider how they will deal with matters should the child/ren have difficulties accepting the news.
From a children’s mental health perspective and from years of supporting families through difficult transitions, Systemic Psychotherapist Lorraine adds, “Parents should strive to create a context where the children do not keep their feelings to themselves in order to protect their parents. It is OK for the children to show their upset, and they should be able to do so without fear their sadness will be too hard for their parents to manage. Often parents have had some time to process their emotions related to their relationship breaking down, but for the children, this might be ‘new news’. Hence, they may be lagging behind the parents in adjusting emotionally to the news and the forthcoming changes to the family. The children may need time to catch up. Ensure they know they are free to share their worries and ask questions. Parents should be honest in an age-appropriate way and without blame and criticism of the other parent. The goal is for the child to feel safe and secure that the parents are working together for the welfare of their children. However angry or disappointed the parent’s may be with one another, the children want to be reassured they will continue to have time with both parents (provided there are no safeguarding issues) ”
It is usually helpful to liaise with the child/ren’s school and ask them to keep an eye on the child/ren and update the parents if they recognise any changes in the child/ren’s behaviour. Nowadays, most school’s are well equipped to help support the child/ren if they are having any difficulties.
If there are no allegations of domestic abuse, I will advise my client to consider mediation to try and resolve matters without any lengthy court proceedings (when considering arrangements in respect of the children).
Consider online resources available that might be appropriate.
In some cases, child/ren will really benefit from speaking to a Systemic Family Psychotherapist that will help the child/ren work through their feelings. See resource suggestions below.
Are there any other practical tips you could offer?
I have found that parents will often find it less stressful once they have agreed interim arrangements for the children. As much as children require safety and security, it is also reduces the possibility of the child/ren witnessing further parental conflict.
A clear timetable / arrangements means that the child/ren will also provide the benefit of spending one-to-one time with each parent. The news of hearing their parents are separating/getting a divorce might cause a child to feel some uncertainty about how this will impact their relationship with each parent. The interim arrangements will allow the child/ren to benefit from a sense of security and counter any feelings they are having in respect of the changing dynamics in the household. It also helps the child/ren if they know what their routine is going to be in the interim.
Sadly, on occasions when a husband and wife are not at a point of being able to communicate with one another that child/ren will sometimes be used a messenger to relay arrangements to the other parent. It is often the case that when proceedings relating to the children (Child Arrangements Order) that when professionals are instructed (CAFCASS) that they will reference how the child/ren are suffering from stress/anxiety of having the pressure of being used as a messenger.
Lorraine Davies- Smith recommends in cases like this is can be helpful for the parents to seek the services of a Systemic Family Psychotherapist to help them to communicate as a divorced parents. The goal of this type of therapy is not ‘couple therapy’, it is accepted the marriage is over. It is to help the parents find ways of managing the next stage of life where they are still both parents to their shared children so that their children are not ‘piggy in the middle’.”
I will often advise clients to create spreadsheet relating to costs that are likely to arise in respect of the children in the interim. If possible, the expenses should be shared or agreed as to who will be responsible for continuing to pay them. If possible, you would want to try and ensure that the children can maintain their current activities.
When is the right time to introduce a new partner to the child/ren?
I would always strongly advice a client to try and reach an agreement in respect of when potential new partners should be introduced to the child/ren. Depending on how the child/ren react, it means that a husband and wife can co-parent and work out how to best support the child/ren should they have any difficulties adjusting.
Resources and contact
Young Minds have a great A-Z guide for parents on how to help manage the process with their children. This can be found here. And click here to download a PDF full of Advice and Information for Parents from Young Minds.
Systemic Family Psychotherapists are specially trained to work with families, (together or separately) especially when they are negotiating conflict and changes in their circumstances or difficult transitions. They can be found via the Association of Family Therapy or by searching for Systemic Family Psychotherapy on the UKCP website.
To contact Lorraine directly:
Consultant Systemic Family Psychotherapist
T: 074 105 39 405
And of course, to contact the Family Law team at Comptons use the details below.
Specialises in: Family Law