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Supporting your children through a divorce, dissolution or separation 24/01/2022

Divorce, dissolution or separation can be a stressful experience, not only for the separating couple but also for any children of the family. Living arrangements for the children are likely to change: this may mean one parent moving out of the family home, or perhaps the children moving house with one of their parents, and sometimes moving out of the area entirely. Arrangements for seeing both parents will likely impact on children’s present routines and may elicit strong emotional reactions from them. Whatever the practical arrangements, the family dynamic will almost certainly change and it can take some time for children to come to terms with the fact that their parents are no longer in a relationship.

There are a number of ways you can support your children whilst going through a divorce, dissolution or separation yourself. Any decision on how to do this is ultimately down to you (in agreement, if practicable and appropriate, with your former partner) but it is worth taking some time to plan how you are going to try to minimise the impact on your children alongside the legal and practical considerations for the divorce, dissolution or separation itself.

Your children are likely to have a number of questions about the practicalities of the separation – where they will live, how often and for how long they will see each parent, what will happen in regard to holidays, birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions. There will, of course, be some aspects of the separation that are not appropriate to share with your children, but it is sensible to ensure that they have the opportunity to talk to you about their feelings and to ask questions, in order to help them come to terms with what is happening.

Relate has a useful video guide on how to talk to your children about separation and divorce here, and similarly Voices provides useful guidance including from children whose parents have separated here. It is important to remember that even if your children are adults and no longer live in the family home, they may also have questions and emotional responses that would benefit from a supportive conversation with you and/or your former partner.

You should recognise that children may assume that they are in some way responsible for the breakdown of the relationship, and may pick up on any anger and resentment even when parents are trying their utmost to keep this away from them. You should ensure that you have some form of emotional support in place – be that family, friends, online support groups, or a professional counsellor or psychotherapist – in order to avoid your children feeling that they have to try to support you emotionally alongside managing their own thoughts and feelings surrounding the separation.

Having good legal representation can also assist in this respect: enabling you to discuss the procedural details of your separation with a professional who can advise on the best course of action as you progress through the legal aspects of your case. Choosing to work with a legal professional who is supportive, patient and compassionate can give you the opportunity to make decisions that will result in the most beneficial legal outcome for you without being clouded by emotion. A solicitor who adopts a constructive person-centred approach to handling relationship breakdown can help you to minimise acrimony as a result of the negotiations pertaining to your children and other legal issues.

Perhaps the most important way that you can support your children is to prioritise your own mental and physical health and wellbeing alongside theirs. Feelings such as loss, isolation, anxiety, anger, depression and shame are all normal emotional reactions to a huge life change. The legal process of divorce, dissolution or separation may take several months, and you will be better able to support those you love during that time if you have strategies in place for self-support. These will vary from individual to individual, but may include mindfulness or meditation, exercise, reconnecting to dormant hobbies or interests, and committing to avoiding negative coping behaviours such as drugs, alcohol or obsessive thoughts about your relationship. The importance and benefits of maintaining or starting healthy routines – such as eating well, having sufficient sleep and regular exercise – cannot be overstated.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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