Your children during divorce
There are things that you can do – and avoid doing – to limit the damage to children during divorce. Firstly, how you and your partner interact with each other is critical. Conflict between parents is more damaging than the separation itself.
Secondly, one parent bad-mouthing the other hurts a child more than you can imagine. A child is made up of both their parents, and if one parent is attacking the other, they’re attacking part of their child. If, despite all your best efforts, you find that you’re only human and have said something about your ex that you know was wrong, apologise to your child and explain that when we’re tired, angry etc we sometimes say things we don’t mean. Depending on the age of your children, you may be able to relate it to them falling out with a friend and saying things that aren’t true.
There’s no shortage of research and advice out there for more information about children during divorce I would recommend Penelope Leach’s book ‘Family Breakdown: helping children hang on to both their parents.’
Although preserving a sense of family and nurturing their relationships with their children is what most parents seek to ensure, parents going through separation or divorce may put off talking to their children for fear of causing more distress. But for children during divorce or separation, even more than for adults, not knowing and not daring to ask questions can be the hardest thing to bear. Listening to your children, and accepting and validating their feelings (even when they are hard for you to hear) is not always easy when you’re under pressure, but is what they most need .
These applications cause huge anxiety in parents. When they have been preceded by threats from their ex in relation to their children, on top of the loss of confidence associated with separation and divorce, it’s hard to think straight. As a former solicitor specialising in children work I can reassure you, help you work out what’s best for your children, and help you to stand firm for them.
You may need to decide quickly whether you will be represented in court and, if so, whether you need a solicitor or a barrister.
If you can’t afford legal representation, would a McKenzie Friend be a support to you? If so, can you afford a professional one, or would a friend or relative be enough? This may be an option, provided that the other parent wouldn’t object to them being in court with you.
If your ex is reducing your contact with your children, or has even stopped it altogether, you need to act quickly and make an immediate application to the court. Don’t live in hope that things will change, they rarely do if it happens after a couple have been separated for a while and with each week that passes your chances of seeing your child again are reduced.
If you’re not seeing your children immediately after your separation then you may need to wait a few weeks for things to settle down but don’t leave it too long before taking action.
Or maybe you are looking to change where your child lives, or the amount of time spent with each parent.
I can give you as much or as little help as you need with your court hearing. Email me now at firstname.lastname@example.org with a few details (eg court, date, number and ages of your children etc.) to arrange a time for your free 20 minute call to see if I’m the right person to help you.
This is becoming a more popular option as it is seen to be ‘fair’. But it’s really only fair to the parents, and children can struggle to cope with it. It can work well if the parents live close to each other and get on well so there aren’t any problems or friction for the children moving between the two houses. Parents need to be able to communicate and co-operate well so that if for instance a child forgets a vital piece of equipment for school the next day in the other house a parent can go and get it for them.
When the parents don’t get on, maybe because one parent has a personality disorder, it will be very hard for a child to make frequent moves between the two homes which can feel like moving through a war zone.
Some children cope well and even thrive on constant change whilst others struggle to manage it at all which means it could work for one of your children, but not the other.
Fathers’ rights groups have pushed hard for this and it is commonly accepted by courts as the right thing to do. Sadly in some cases the motivation is simply to pay less child maintenance, which is reduced according to how many nights a child spends with the other parent.
If your ex has narcissistic tendencies you will have been struggling both in your relationship and in leaving it. Your children will also be struggling, perhaps even more so if they now have to go to see that parent without you, and have to keep moving between the two homes. Children know when something is “off” but can’t necessarily put it into words and will, more often than not, think it’s their fault. Children during divorce need help to understand the behaviour they witness and to work out how best to deal with it.
The best help you can get for your child is from Lisa Parkes, Smiley Coach, who has a lot of experience with helping children with a narcissistic parent. She helps children all over the country, connecting with them on Skype. She says:
“If you’re co-parenting with a highly narcissistic individual, then your child will need lots of emotional support. They will need help reconnecting back to who they are and building their self-esteem. Since everything is about the narcissistic parent and doesn’t meet the needs of the child, coaching will strengthen your child’s intuition so they can trust their own feelings again. It will also help them find ways to respond and communicate assertively with this parent (without feeling guilty or bad).
Coaching will build up their confidence and shine a light on who they really are (not how the narcissistic parent sees them). Any child who experiences this warped reality needs to understand that how other people choose to behave and how other people choose to treat us, is not a reflection of who we are. It is not your child’s fault! For more information about private coaching contact email@example.com or visit the website www.smileyforlife.com.”
Parental alienation is when one parent turns a child against their other parent This means a child can lose their protective parent and be left with the abusive parent – because parental alienation is child abuse.
Here’s a checklist to help you recognise if you’re being alienated from your child. Your ex may:
- Constantly badmouth or belittle you to your child
- Limit your contact with your child
- Shift responsibility to your child regarding the decision of their contact with you
- Make it clear to your child that any mention of you is unwelcome
- Create the impression that you dislike or do not love your child
- Create a false belief that you are dangerous or unworthy
- Interrupt or interfere with communication between you and your child
- Withdraw love or express anger if the child does not comply
- Force your child to choose between their parents
- Confide in the child personal adult or information about court proceedings
- Force your child to reject you and your family
- Ask your child to spy on you
- Ask your child to keep secrets from you
- Refer to you by your first name instead of mum or dad
- Refer to a step-parent as mum or dad and encourage the child to do the same
- Withhold medical, school or social, information from you and keep your name off the records
- Cultivate the child’s dependency on them
- Undermine your authority
People with borderline personality features get angry when someone important to them won’t give them what they want—eg a spouse who has decided to leave the marriage, usually because the alienating partner was not capable of a healthy, loving and co-operative relationship. Their goal then becomes to destroy the other parent’s relationship with their children. They encourage the children to join them in their battle and do all they can to prevent the other parent, their enemy, from being able to continue to be a parent.
A narcissistic alienating parent uses the children as weapons in their battle to destroy the other parent. They claim to be protecting the children against the other parent who they may allege to have mental health issues, or even to have abused the children. A narcissist has no empathy for anyone, including their own children, and doesn’t care what damage they may do in their perpetual fight to hurt the other parent.
Contact is the right of the child, not the parent. Children have a right to a safe and positive relationship with both their parents. What may seem fair between the parents can be damagingly unfair to the child.
Separation and divorce are traumatic and difficult times for parents, usually involving feelings of loss. It can be heartbreaking for a parent who no longer lives with their child every day and, not surprisingly, they want as much contact as they can get.
But this ‘getting’ may involve taking more from their child than he or she can give at that time without causing lasting damage. It can be hard for a child to go from one parent to the other and then back again. Contact needs to go at the child’s pace and not be arranged to fit into the adults’ timetable or around their feelings of justice.
I would recommend Penelope Leach’s book ‘Family Breakdown: helping children hang on to both their parents’ which explains how much contact is suitable for different aged children.
There are two different scenarios here, the first is child abduction, and the second is applications to take a child abroad (known as ‘remove a child from the jurisdiction’).
1. Child abduction
If you’re seriously and genuinely worried that your child(ren) may be abducted i.e. if your ex has somewhere to live abroad, the means to support themselves there, is capable of caring for the child(ren) themselves or has someone abroad who can help them, or is mentally unstable, you need to take fast action.
There’s a lot of useful information on this website:
If you need a solicitor, please make sure you choose one from the list on this website if your case is urgent.
This is a specialist area of law and if fast action’s required, you need someone who knows how to get hold of an emergency judge, not someone who has to stop and look it all up.
This list only names firms of solicitors, not individuals, and it’s likely that there’ll only be one person in each firm who specialises in this work. You need to know who that person is, and not be fobbed off with a colleague in their absence.
You could look the firm up on the internet so that you can ask for the child abduction specialist by name when you call. Or you could ask the receptionist which solicitor specialises in child abduction before asking to speak to them.
These solicitors will all have different fees. So if money’s an issue you may need to shop around, and not necessarily go to the one nearest to you. You may be entitled to legal aid, so do ask first.
I can’t help you with any emergency work but I can help and support you through any subsequent process.
2. Applications to remove a child from the jurisdiction
You cannot take your child abroad without the written consent of everyone else who has parental responsibility (usually only the other parent).
If you do, (even for a holiday) that is child abduction, which is a serious criminal offence. If the other parent will not agree, an application has to be made to the court for permission.
Applications to live permanently abroad are usually made by mothers, are mostly successful and are always hugely difficult emotionally, especially if the child is taken to the other side of the world.
A successful application takes a lot of careful preparation, but most of this is practical and factual, rather than legal. If money is an issue, you may wish to do a lot of it yourself as you’ll want to have the best representation in court that you can afford.
If you need more affordable help to make or oppose an application I can guide you through the process and help you find suitable representation for the hearing. Please email me with brief details of your situation, or give me a call.
“Diana has been helping me for the past year with problems of contact between my daughter and her father.She has helped me focus on what I wish to happen and has given me invaluable advice on how to get out of my daughter what she would like to happen. She has good humouredly and sometimes amusingly helped me negotiate my way through a very tricky time.
Supportive and always sharp on the subject of the law I would recommend that the “Dealing with Divorce” path be taken by all, it should save you £££’s and speed the way to new life.”
Mrs RK, London