As I lawyer, I’ve worked with many parents who express concern over how their divorce will affect their children; and although this worry stems from a good place, the truth is that many parents have little idea of what children of divorce really think.
Being able to provide insight backed by facts is always best, which is why the 2015 poll by Resolution, which surveyed 514 people aged 14 to 22 who had experienced their parents’ divorce or separation, is so helpful to divorcing parents and their lawyers alike.
What Children of Divorce Really Think
Parents considering or beginning the process of divorce often torment themselves with the question of whether they ought to stay together for their children’s sake. According to the above poll, 82 percent of children would rather their parents separate if they’re unhappy, a fact that many divorced parents may benefit from knowing.
Not seeking children’s input seems to be the norm, though: 60 percent of those surveyed “felt their parents had not ensured they were part of the decision-making process in their separation or divorce,” and wanted to have more say. Fifty percent said they didn’t get to have any input when it came to where and with whom they would live. The fact that 88 percent also said that ensuring children “do not feel like they have to choose between parents” is crucial suggests that they want a middle ground between being completely overlooked and being sole decision-makers.
But for many of those polled, having input probably seemed rather far-fetched, as half of them did not even have an “understanding [of] what was happening during their parents’ separation or divorce.” This lack of understanding likely contributed to 19 percent sometimes feeling “like it was their fault.”
Lack of parental awareness is underlined by the statistic that 30 percent of those polled wished their parents had understood how they felt during the divorce. Such insight may have informed parental behavior when around their children. For instance, 31 percent of surveyees would have preferred that their parents “not criticize each other in front of them.”
How Staying Out of Court Helps Children of Divorce
According to Jo Edwards, the chair of Resolution,
Being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself. This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce.
- The three crucial elements here are:
- minimize conflict in front of children,
- communicate openly with them,
- and give them a voice.
This can be more difficult than it sounds, but Edwards suggests that resolving your divorce outside of court can help.
People generally have two options when it comes to ending marriages without going to court: collaborative divorce and mediation. Collaborative divorce typically entails working with a professional divorce team — made up of two lawyers, a divorce coach, a financial specialist, and a child specialist — to agree upon the optimal settlement while keeping animosity at bay. Mediation utilizes a neutral third party to help the couple come to an agreement. Mediation options include both early mediation and settlement conference mediation, depending on when in the divorce process the couple seeks out a mediator.
Utilizing one of these methods enables parents to reduce conflict, keep their children’s wishes at the forefront, and steer the divorce in whatever direction the entire family sees fit. This will make the divorce as satisfactory as possible for parents and children alike and will make co-parenting post-divorce that much more manageable.