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A father is for life – even after divorce

A sad, if not altogether surprising, picture emerged this week of how men are suffering from the effects of their divorces as long as 30 years after the event.

According to the charity Help the Aged, half a million elderly men lead lonely lives with no friends and no contact from their families. Its report found that one person in five with an elderly father is no longer in touch with him.

Divorce and family break-up has left millions of men without ties to their children, says Help the Aged’s Amy Swan. “We are seeing the first real wave of the ‘divorce generation’ hitting retirement. As fathers were typically the parents who did not win custody of the children, many are entering later life with strained family ties.”

After reforms to divorce legislation in 1969 made “quickie” decrees available for the first time, the number of divorces tripled in the early 1970s. So men whose marriages broke up then, when they were in their 30s, are now in their 70s.

What this report underlines is the long-term effects of family breakdown and the tragedy of parents whose access to their children is compromised by divorce. Although courts today are much more understanding of the needs of “absent” parents and their children than they were three decades ago, many dads still struggle to maintain close relationships with their kids.

This was highlighted last Sunday when two fathers’ rights activists held a roof-top protest at the south London home of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman. Jolly Stanesby and Mark Harris, both of whom have been bailed by police, wore superhero costumes and unfurled a banner saying: “A father is for life, not just conception.”

The men said the protest was to highlight the fact that fathers were being made redundant both emotionally by the courts and now biologically by the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Putting in place contact arrangements that allow absent parents and their children to spend time together and nurture what should be a tight, lifelong bond is not always easy. The courts can only do so much to ensure that parents and their kids suffer as little as possible in the divorce process: the onus must rest with the adults. However bitterly you feel towards your ex and however little you believe they “deserve” to see the children, it is hugely important – both in the short- and long-term – that you set aside your personal agenda for the sake of the emotional wellbeing of others caught up in divorce (this includes grandparents too).

Old age can be lonely enough anyway; to see out your twilight years without the love and support of your children – or grandchildren – is a sad way to end your life.

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