How can divorce be made fairer for kids?

imageWith the Conservative Party pledging much needed support for families, it is worth remembering that almost half of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce.

It is surely these fractured families, with children often torn between bitter, warring parents, who particularly need help and support. The impact of divorce on children can be devastating, as this report highlights, including self-blame, rebelliousness and even suicidal thoughts.

Any attempt to reduce the pain inflicted by divorce should be welcomed, and one idea worth trying could be the introduction of compulsory “conflict clinics”, described in The Sunday Times today.

Sandra Davis, a partner at Mishcom de Reya, is spearheading a campaign to get family lawyers and politicians to think hard about how family courts work – or rather, don’t work, – to prevent further cases such as this one quoted below which is cited in the story:

Somewhere on the south coast of England an 11-year-old boy is packing his bags this morning, preparing to move to his father’s house in the West Country. One can only imagine the tearful scenes as he and his mother fold his clothes and sort through his school books.

Last Thursday, despite admitting it would be “almost cataclysmic” for the child, a judge at the Appeal Court in London ordered that the boy be moved from his mother’s care to live with his father, with whom he lived for just a few months after his birth before his parents separated.

They have been fighting over him since. The mother claims to have given her “unconditional support” to the boy having a relationship with his father, but the father told the court he found it “impossible” to build that relationship while the boy was living with his mother.

One of his relatives said it was a very sad situation: “The mother just wouldn’t let go. She yes-ed and no-ed an awful lot and sadly broke promises. But in a horrible situation like this we recognise that it is also very difficult for the mother so it has been no good for anyone, really.”

Especially the boy: the traumatised child has said his father has “ruined his life” and that he would “punch and kick” rather than leave his mother’s home. The judge gave him three days to pack his bags. That time limit expires today.

Sandra believes the court system, with its delays, costs and adversarial nature, exacerbates the bitterness couples feel towards each other and makes it harder for them to come to rational decisions.

Most parents — some 70% — claim to make their children’s welfare their “top priority” during a break-up, but in a study by Mishcon, two-thirds admitted to using their children as “bargaining tools”. It also suggests that nearly one in three children whose parents divorce lose touch with their father. Many children said they felt used, isolated and alone after the divorce.

Sandra suggests establishing compulsory “conflict clinics” where disputes can be resolved.  Under the Mishcon proposals, nobody could make an application to court without a certificate saying they had been through resolution and, for some reason, failed. Sandra suggests that parents be given an incentive to use such conflict clinics by making it twice as expensive to apply for contact orders through the courts than to undergo family therapy. Under such a scheme only the most difficult cases would end up in court.

Another idea is being considered by Shadow Family Minister Maria Miller. She has been looking at Australian “family relationship centres” which offer mediation in divorce, with a view to replicating them here. They assist families to negotiate their way through separation or divorce and support parents to reach agreement on parenting arrangements outside the court system. Group sessions are undertaken to help separating parents focus on children’s needs and facilitate developing parenting plans. 

The worst unresolved cases of divorce and separation can lead to unspeakably cruel and devastating actions, like parental abductions, and even murder. Shockingly, it can also force offspring to take their revenge in the most unbelievable way, like this 18-year-old Chinese girl who murdered her parents and cut them into pieces after an argument with them about their divorce.

Does anyone have any other suggestions about how to reduce conflict during divorce? Does the present mediation system work which is offered by the courts? Not according to Guy Harrison, who is quoted in the Times report. He last saw his daughter eight years ago.

One of Mishcon’s clients, who is now divorcing and has a young child, remembers her own parent’s bitter divorce, particularly as she is now experiencing it herself:

“It was miserable. When they decided to split up I remember my dad crouching on his knees in front of me with tears in his eyes and him telling me that he loved me and he would come to collect me the following Saturday at two o’clock. I waited by the window from nine in the morning.

“The hours passed by, two o’clock came and went and I felt I’d never see my dad again. I was right, I never did.

“Now I have a little boy. I never wanted him to feel how I felt but that has gone out the window as his father and I are going through a divorce. I am doing to him exactly what my parents did to me.”

How many times has this heartbreaking scene been repeated with other families? How can divorce be made fairer for kids?

Pic courtesy of Sunday Times.


  1. Fortunately good help is universal and applies regardless of where you are based. While the legal system may differ from nation to nation, even state to state, effective and responsible parenting after divorce works around the world. So let’s focus on spreading the word to alert parents about how they can create child-centered solutions for any family coping with separation or divorce.

  2. To start with one of the problems is, that there seems to be a lack of support for those who think that they want to divorce ie counselling, and it is very expensive. But also the parents won’t go and see anyone, not the younger ones today, so they just split up. My son and his partner split up, two very young children, they were having major problems, but they wouldn’t listen, and just battled on. They split up a year ago, and the arguments still go on, because of demands, lack of communication, and stubbornness. What can anyone do?

  3. Rosalind and RobleyBlake, thanks for your comments, but I wonder why all the books are helplines are based in America, what is there in the UK?

  4. Divorce can be extremely traumatic to families, especially children. Living With Mom, Spending Time With Dad takes us through a myriad of emotions that two children, Stephen and Alex, experience through this tumultuous period. Young Alex especially gives an extremely candid and honest account of the day-to-day trauma, the hostility and at times the many poignant memories that he has. Living with Mom, Spending Time with Dad also addresses the concerns and anguish of being torn between two parents. Throughout the story there is that underlying hope that everything will turn out alright and everyone will be back in their original comfort zone.

  5. I founded the Child-Centered Divorce Network as a valuable resource for parents facing, moving through and transitioning after divorce. My goal is to help them make the best, most conscious decisions on behalf of their children for the short and long-term.

    I provide a free weekly newsletter filled with sound advice on breaking the news to the kids, co-parenting successfully, pitfalls to avoid and much more. I also share other resources for parents, my blogs, telephone coaching services and more to support parents in every possible way. Visit to learn more.

    Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
    The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce

  6. Daniel, I will allow you your plug, and good luck with your book.

    Simon, you are right to say that children should come first, particularly in circumstances like this. They really hate to feel ignored and “piggy in the middle”.

    Sally, in an ideal world, yes, that is the way it should work, and often does too. This post is highlighting the difficulties that often arise.

  7. surely its down to the family or parents themselves…. only they can make it easier on the kids

  8. I think we now live in a world where most people are self absorbed. In a modern society men dont “need” women and visa vesa. Its easy to bail out should things geta little “tough” in a relationship.

    Its my view that the children should come first each and everytime. that our actions MUST be measured with “how will effect all my family” not just the partner.

    Most arguements about kids are just selfish action IMO..

  9. A Positive Self-Help Book on Divorce recovery

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