MacDonnells Law and Samantha Vickery are pleased to announce the release of their descriptive and informative article which seeks to answer the question of whether parents should stay together for the sake of the children when the parents are considering separation or divorce. Separation can be such a difficult time to navigate, both for adults and for children. Deciding whether to separate or whether to stay together, or stay together at least until the children are older is one of the difficult decisions which must be made. Friends and family members often say that they stayed together for the —
kids, but was this the right decision for the children?
It is never an easy decision to separate, particularly when there are children involved, but the good news is that much of the research shows that the separation itself is not harmful for the children. The studies show that outcomes for children are not worse for those with separated parents, that is, unless there is parental conflict and instability for the children.
Exposure to parental conflict can occur both in unhappy relationships and after separation. Whilst couples may think they are doing the right thing by staying together, this could in fact be more harmful for the children than separating as soon as it becomes clear the relationship is not able to be salvaged.
The possible outcomes for children when their parents are in high conflict can be incredibly concerning for parents. Judges determining family law matters in Australia are acutely aware of the impact of parental conflict on children. They see it in their courtrooms each day and read about it in the social science research.
Some of the signs and symptoms of distress for children when their parents are involved in conflict are poor school performance, behavioural problems and risk-taking behaviour, including non-co-operation, substance abuse, promiscuity, criminal behaviour, difficulties regulating their emotions, anxiety and depression and difficulties in forming relationships.
A spokesperson for the law offices suggests, “If you are a separated parent, ask yourself if your child thinks that you get along or are friends with your ex. If not, what steps can you take to reduce the conflict and improve the outcome for your child? A child's response to parental conflict, separation or divorce will vary depending on their age and stage of development.”
Infants and toddlers do not have a sense of time to assist them to understand a separation from a parent. Maintaining secure attachments to their parents should be a primary focus when determining arrangements for children of this age. There has been a significant amount of research in this area. The majority of the research seems to indicate that infants and toddlers form a secure attachment to a primary caregiver and that prolonged separations from this primary caregiver causes the child to experience distress and anxiety. For this reason, it is recommended that infants and toddlers spend regular, short periods of time with their other caregiver and that the length of time they spend away from their primary caregiver should increase gradually. As the child ages and develops they are able to cope with longer periods of time away from their primary caregiver without experiencing distress or anxiety.
Pre-school aged children remain dependent on their attachment or bond with their primary caregiver.
They are, however, generally able to cope with consecutive overnight periods with their other parent. A pre-school aged child has limited abilities to think and reason. Separation and divorce can, therefore, be a difficult and confusing time for them. They can experience feelings of confusion, abandonment, harbour wishes for their parents to reconcile and may also blame themselves for the separation. Children in this age group become acutely aware of the conflict between their parents. To ensure that
the child is not adversely impacted by the separation, it is important that the parents co-operate and
establish a clear and workable parenting arrangement which takes into account the child's emotional
development and emotional reaction to the separation.
Children of school-age ( 5-8) are able to tolerate lengthier separations from both of their parents. It is at
this age that shared care arrangements become viable for some children.
Older school aged children (9-12) are generally able to express their feelings and they often demonstrate loyalties to both of their parents. These loyalties can mean that they tell each parent what they think that parent wants to hear. Children in this age bracket can understand reasons for the separation, but only in basic terms. They can understand their parent's feelings and may take some responsibility to look after their parents' well-being. They may also see one parent as the “good guy” and align with one parent.
Adolescents generally require time to deal with their parents' separation. It is a challenging time for
their development in any event, let alone dealing with a separation at the same time. An adolescent is generally more able to understand and assign responsibility for the separation and resolve feelings of conflicted loyalties between their parents. Children in this age group will benefit from flexible parenting arrangements which enable them to participate in social activities, school events and part time employment.
The steps you can take to assist your children adjust to separation or divorce include creating a co-operative co-parenting relationship with your ex, with effective communication and working together to resolve conflict; working with your ex to ensure that your child's needs are met; creating a consistent routine across households and sharing resources, as well as responsibilities for the child. Parents should support the other parent's practices which benefit the child and communicate directly with their ex, rather than passing messages through the child. The child should also be allowed to talk to each parent about the other, without judgement or disapproval and parents should not ask the child about what goes on while they are with the other parent. The child's relationship with each parent should be supported by the other parent, provided it is safe to do so and the parenting arrangements should be adjusted for the child's benefit as he or she grows and develops. Finally, litigation should be avoided it at all possible.
Experienced family lawyers can assist parents to negotiate parenting arrangements to suit the children
and the family's circumstances.
Research shows that it is often not separation that causes problems for children, rather it is the conflict between the parents. If there is likely to be less conflict between the parents if they separate, they should not remain together just for the children.
Release ID: 249927