Many parents involved in a family dispute worry about the impact of separation on their children. Have they done the right thing? How can they best help their children?
In most cases, they need not worry so much. In fact, experts tend to agree it’s a myth that children are better off when their unhappy parents stay together.
Although divorce and separation are stressful, research indicates the great majority of children from divorced families are emotionally healthy and well-adjusted. And that following a separation, children tend to be resilient and resourceful, with about 80% of children adapting to their changed parental and family circumstances.
The impact of separation on children is based on the degree of conflict in the family, and the extent to which the children are drawn into any conflict is said to make all the difference.
Children from divorced, but conflict-free homes, do significantly better than children remaining in conflicted marriages. If parents keep their negative thoughts and conflicts to themselves and don’t involve their children in their disputes, their children’s overall well-being is positive. The essential factor is the parents’ ability to separate their ‘couple’ role from their ‘parental’ role.
Of course, separation can be stressful for parents as well as children. Major disruptions to their housing and locality and loss of living standards can affect them. About 20% of children of divorce do fare significantly worse than other children when it comes to things like educational results, future employment, and the possibility of psychological problems like depression.
But children of separation can be protected from these things to a large extent. If at least one (and preferably both) parents, provide good quality, ongoing family relationships, demonstrate authoritative, loving and appropriate parenting and provide for their children’s expenses, the children will tend to thrive.
Do both parents play a part in the positive impact of separation on their children?
Experts also generally agree that, following a separation, fathers are just as important as mothers.
Children who have close relationships with their fathers do significantly better after a divorce than children who don’t. This includes achieving higher academic achievement, having greater self-esteem and a host of other positive factors. Given, mothers are often the gatekeepers of their children’s relationships with their father, it’s in the child’s best interests for mothers to use this responsibility wisely and support and encourage the child’s relationship with their father.
There are exceptions, however, where it’s in the child’s best interests to greatly restrict or even terminate a parent’s involvement with their child. For example, to ensure the child’s safety or if the parent is seriously incapable of looking after their child. But this is in a minority of cases.
Children of joint shared parenting arrangements and arrangements where the children spend substantial time with each parent do significantly better than children who don’t often see the other parent.
Children of joint shared parenting arrangements and arrangements where the children spend substantial time with each parent do significantly better than children who don’t often see the other parent. It’s also what the majority of children want. But the success of joint parenting arrangements depends on a positive and conflict-free home.
If both parents avoid conflict with each other and focus on the needs of their kids, it’s likely they will see a successful outcome for their children.
*Andrew Corish is an Accredited Specialist in Family Law with Corish & Co Specialist Family Lawyers North Sydney. He is trained in Family Dispute Resolution.