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Splitting Up and Conflict: How Do Children Fare?


Family Portrait, a study undertaken by Gingerbread and the University of Sheffield, looked at the wellbeing of children living in single-parent households.  The results are interesting for single and two parent households alike. Measures of wellbeing included things like life satisfaction, feelings about your family and also the quality of relationships with peers. Comparing to children who had always lived in two-parent families, children in single-parent households scored as highly, or higher, as those in two-parent families.  The study also concluded that what was most important to children was the presence of positive relationships.

At the other end of the scale, the family courts have published guidance about parental alienation.  This is when one parent psychologically manipulates the children so that they have an unjustified serious resistance or hostility to the other parent.  This is seen as harmful to the child. In the end, a court will consider moving a child away from the hostile parent.

The Family Portrait research would suggest that the issue for children when parents split up is not being in a single parent family and the various myths around that. The important aspect is the conflict between the parents. In one extreme case in court recently, litigation had been going on for 5 years.  It concerned which parent the 3 daughters should live with.  The father did not accept the court’s decision that the girls were to live with their mother, and he went on to appeal the decision, and to make seven further applications to court.  Finally, the court used its powers to prevent him from making any more applications for a period of 2 years.  The stress of being involved in such a long term court case must have been very high.

Gingerbread is hoping that the study will encourage challenges to the stereotype that children suffer in single-parent homes.  They want the focus to switch, perhaps to highlight the problems caused by living without positive relationships.

The court recognises the serious negative impact on children caused by living with domestic abuse. The court examines this before making decisions about the future arrangements for the children.

If you are in a dispute with your ex about arrangements for your children, it can feel as if you are expected to perform miracles: not only to manage a separation but to achieve it amicably as well.  This is a tall order, especially hard if the other parent is not reasonable.  You can find yourself under great pressure to compromise, to reach an agreement so the conflict ends when you might feel it is not the right thing for your children.  To continue a conflict might be to risk being seen as a hostile parent or fuelling a dispute.  However, there are many situations where it is really important to retain your position and to protect the children.  It is important to have legal advice if you are in this situation, or are facing someone who seems uncompromising.  Knowing more about how a court judges these issues can also help in reaching agreements or using mediation.

If you would like to ask any questions on this or the other topics I have covered, many of which are on our website www.hmbsolicitors.co.uk please email me on sb@hmbsolicitors.co.uk

Sarah Beskine

Family and divorce lawyer and mediator

About Sarah Beskine (45 Articles)
I offer help and advice as a specialist in the field of family law whether you are seeking help with divorce, separation or conflicts regarding children’s disputes.