May 13, 2016

How divorced parents can avoid causing children long-term distress

Tom Hanks’ divorce devastation reminds parents to avoid causing children long-term distress

Tom Hanks’ revelation that he was devastated by his parents’ divorce when he was just five – and remains affected by it – is a powerful reminder that the effects of a marriage break-up on children can last a lifetime.

The clearly emotional, double Oscar winning 59-year-old was a guest on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs when he opened up about the family split. He admitted that he was left confused because his parents did not explain their decision to end their marriage to him and his three siblings, nor did they reassure the children that it was not their fault – which is the most important message to convey.

With Relate’s most recent poll revealing that 52% of separated parents thought their separation had a negative impact on their offspring, ensuring children’s stability and happiness remain a top priority requires effectively managing the divorce process.

Children of all ages are susceptible to the stress of separation – which can be further exacerbated at certain times of the year such as exams, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas.

Here are our top tips to help parents avoid the prolonged distress that still affects Tom Hanks as he approaches his 60th birthday:

  •  Don’t use children as pawns in your relationship with the other parent. They need to be reassured that they can love both parents and they should never be used as a bargaining tool or a go between.
  • Sing from the same song sheet as presenting a united front can help children to adjust. This includes agreeing on key areas such as bed times, amount of television or computer games and space and time for homework. It also entails compromising and setting aside personal grievances to attend parents’ evenings, school plays and sports days together to ensure the child’s interests come first every time.
  • Listen to your sons and daughters and allow them space and time to talk about their feelings. If they can’t talk to you or your ex, they might open up to an empathetic family member, friend or a professional.
  •  Collaborative lawyers like Jones Myers will encourage you to take a holistic approach to managing the fallout of your separation. That can mean turning to counsellors, therapists and other family workers for extra support to help your children manage their feelings and cope with their parents’ split.

As Resolution-accredited lawyers, Jones Myers family specialists always encourage separated and divorcing parents to put their children at the heart of everything and ensure that their needs come first.

With the increasing uptake of collaborative, creative routes to divorce, non-confrontational solutions are becoming popular. An example is ‘bird’s nest custody’, where children stay in the family home, while parents move in and out to an agreed schedule.

While not always a practical option, its rising use is an encouraging sign that more parents are prepared to plan, compromise, and communicate when it comes to their children’s wellbeing – both during and after family breakdown.

If you have any comments, queries or concerns on divorce related issues, leave a comment below, call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.