Parents who don’t have anything else – like houses or possessions – to fight about are likely to use their children to score points. Our experience here at Benussi & Co is that since the beginning of the current economic downturn and recession, we have been instructed by increasing numbers of parents in dispute about the arrangements for their children.
In 2010, I wrote a blog in response to Britain’s then most senior family judge, Sir Nicholas Wall, warning that parents were harming children during divorce proceedings by using them as “the battlefield” and the “ammunition”.
As I said in the blog, our firm works hard to keep disputes about children away from court, encouraging clients to resolve problems between themselves, with our help and guidance.
We know how important it is for children to maintain a good relationship with both parents. Divorce is unsettling enough for children; they need to know they are loved and wanted by both their mother and father. As they grow up, they will want both parents’ advice, guidance and practical help as well as the emotional security of knowing they are cherished by mum and dad.
Young children often believe the divorce is their fault – that if they’d been “good” their parents wouldn’t have split up. If, after the separation, they don’t see one parent regularly, those feelings of self-blame are likely to intensify. And such a mindset can lead to a host of other problems, including depression, as the children grow up.
We always stress to clients, therefore, that however angry they are with their estranged spouse, they should not let their antipathy cloud their judgment when it comes to making contact arrangements for their children. If they allow personal grievances to interfere with their children’s ongoing relationship with the other parent, the children will suffer – possibly for the rest of their lives.
We are similarly robust in our advice to clients who have left the family home and believe it will be better for their children if they don’t stay in touch. With very few exceptions (such as violence), this is never the case: children will always benefit from spending time and being in touch with the absent parent on a regular basis.
Today, with social media, Skype and mobile phones, keeping lines of communication open has never been easier. But when people are going through difficult times emotionally, it can sometimes take a lot of effort to ensure contact is frequent and sustained.
Not making that effort, however, could have long-lasting effects for both parents and children. That’s why it’s crucial to ensure that divorce is handled sensitively, civilly and with the children’s needs and interests at the forefront.
- Georgina Burrows is a solicitor with Benussi & Co
- Next week: Why “shared residence” arrangements aren’t always best for the children