November 28, 2014

How collaborative lawyers can help put children first

By Norman Taylor, collaborative family lawyer

As an advocate of collaborative approaches to separation and divorce I was encouraged to see Resolution’s campaigning debated in the House of Lords.

As a long standing member of Resolution, the organisation representing lawyers who believe in non-confrontational, constructive solutions to all family matters, I feel optimistic that perhaps ministers are listening to our messages in a year that has seen unprecedented changes in our family courts.

Divorce and separation continues to be a painful, protracted process, particularly for children – as highlighted by the latest research findings from Resolution.

Launched to coincide with Family Dispute Resolution Week, the research on the impact of divorce on young people shows that the fallout of divorce can be wide reaching and damaging for many years. Every year around 100,000 children under 16 see their married parents break up – a statistic which does not include youngsters whose parents live together.

In the survey of 14 – 22 year olds whose parents have separated, many said that their GCSE and A-Level results suffered and that they were forced to choose sides in their parents’ break-up. One in five young people “didn’t get the exam results” they were hoping for with the majority (65%) saying it was their GCSE exam results that suffered. And one in 10 said that they found themselves in more trouble at school.

As well as affecting exam results, young people surveyed said that their parents’ separation impacted on their health – with one in six saying they took up drinking alcohol.

These findings emphasise the importance of parents using more constructive methods to separate in order to lessen the most stressful elements of a break-up, ensuring the best outcomes for both them and their children.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards, commented: “I’m not for a second suggesting that people should not break-up ‘for the sake of the kids’. Children’s wellbeing often improves markedly after a break-up when they’re not witnessing day-in day-out the trauma of their parents’ relationship breaking down slowly. It’s not anyone’s job to judge the merits of any given relationship. But the process of the break-up can and should often be managed much better.

“If this survey tells us anything it’s that separating couples have a duty to their children to reduce the stress of separation. That’s precisely why over recent years, different types of dispute resolution have developed which are designed specifically to reduce conflict and encourage collaboration.

“We need to start busting the Hollywood myth that the only way to settle a break-up is to have your day in court. For some couples it is the best option but for many it is not. For children a parental break-up is never easy but parents owe it to their children to find the method of separation that will work best for the whole family.”

If government is truly committed to putting children at the heart of changes to family courts, I hope that those at highest level continue to listen to and consult with Resolution and its 6,500 members who are committed to considering the needs of the whole family.

To find out more about collaborative family lawyers, or do you have any questions about separation or divorce, please e-mail us. You can follow us on Twitter @helpwithdivorce