Resolution, the UK’s leading membership organisation for those involved in family law, have introduced a ‘Parenting Charter’ detailing what children should be able to expect from their parents if they are separating and what separating parents need to do in the interests of their children. But in the opinion of many family law practitioners there is a long way to go to ensure parents always act in the best interest of the children.
Nearly half of the UK’s 118,000 divorces annually involve at least one child under 16. Family law and divorce specialist Diane Genders has learned to offer no-nonsense advice to parents based on many years’ experience. Her top tips of how not to act include:
- Don’t make assumptions about what your children will assume
Even if you have already separated or you think a divorce is ‘inevitable’ don’t assume your kids will assume the same. Be clear at every stage what is happening, why it is happening and how it will affect the children. Don’t assume kids know the difference between divorce or separation or the reasons why these things are happening. Don’t assume your kids will apportion blame in the same way as you do. Always question your actions and choice of language from your kids’ point of view. Allow your kids the opportunity to ask any questions to both of you but agree beforehand what you feel it is acceptable to reveal – honesty is not necessarily the best policy. And don’t make assumptions about how they will react – listen to what they say, watch they react and behave.
- Don’t try to get your story in first
Difficult as it is, you need to act as a couple when talking about the divorce to your kids. Tell them together, and tell all the kids at the same time. Agree what you will say and what you WON’T say. Make sure they understand the difference between any current separation and a divorce. Ask, don’t just tell – and try to see all aspects from the children’s point of view.
- Don’t blame or shame
Angry as you may be and at times unhappy or even despairing, don’t try to make your partner look bad in the kids’ eyes as this will have a long-term impact on their relations with BOTH parents. If children ask questions when the other partner is not around, stick to the ‘script’ and don’t directly or even indirectly try to denigrate the other partner – they are the children’s mom or dad beyond any divorce.
- Don’t give them false hope
You should only tell the kids once the decision is final final but it’s highly likely they will want a happy ending. No matter how much of an easy option it may appear don’t provide false hopes of a reconciliation. Be practical about how they will be affected: who they will stay with, when they will be able to see the parent they won’t be living with, will the family be moving to a different property once the divorce is completed.
- Don’t make it their whole world
Family Law specialist Diane Genders says “Even kids who appear to take the news hardest do have other things in their life – grandparents, school, hobbies, friends etc. So don’t make the divorce the only topic of their or your conversation. Focus where possible on these ‘other’ activities and try to help them maintain their routine and interests.”
Diane continued “Every divorce is unique so there are never any hard and fast rules but there are certainly strategies and techniques to help the terrible task of breaking the news to your kids slightly easier and without causing problems that will add to an already difficult situation.”