How to help children feel heard during divorce and separation
Our children are more important than anything in the world and we only want what is best for them. But when parents are separating, it is easy for differing views on the children's futures to drown out the voices of the young people at the centre of it all.
Unfortunately, feeling ignored and misunderstood can have a negative impact on children, especially at what is already an extremely stressful time. Children can quickly end up feeling like the divorce or separation is their fault, or that they are the ones causing conflict between their parents. Children may also feel scared to speak up about how they truly feel about residence and contact arrangements in case they are told off (even if that is not true).
So how do you make sure that your children feel heard during divorce and separation proceedings?
Top tips for separated parents
Have a read of this useful list of top tips for parents who are separated. It was created by the Family Justice Young People's Board (FJYPB) which is made up of children and young people who all have experience of family law proceedings.
Their top tips include:
- Try to have good communication with the other parent - children may overhear arguing which can make them unhappy.
- Remember that your children love and care for their other parent as they love and care for you.
- Be flexible and be prepared to compromise when making arrangements for the children.
- Keep children up to date about changes to their arrangements.
When children are involved in family court proceedings, an organisation called Cafcass will usually be on hand to provide support and represent your children's interests during the process.
Cafcass recently consulted with the FJYPB to add a new top tip to the list - "Don't make me scared to say what I think about my arrangements for fear of being told off or treated badly by you if you don't agree."
This tip was added in response to a complaint Cafcass received from a young person about being frightened to speak up about how they felt about contact arrangements with their father.
Cafcass stated, "Listening to this young woman talk to us about her experience of us and the impact of our work on her was a serious lesson in never assuming that adults know best. She taught us the value of listening and also the need to check always whether we are!"
Our top tips for helping children feel heard during family law proceedings
As family lawyers, we also play a major role in helping families sort out arrangements for children that work for the whole family. Here are a few of our top tips for helping children feel heard during the proceedings:
- Consider whether Alternative Dispute Resolution is right for you - processes such as mediation can help you keep separation proceedings out of court, reducing stress for everyone and making it easier to keep children at the centre of the process.
- Draft a detailed co-parenting plan - child arrangements work best when everyone is on the same page and is happy about the agreement. We help families draw up co-parenting plans that clearly set out residence and contact arrangements, as well as your agreement about things like child maintenance and upbringing.
- Don't be afraid to revisit the plan if it no longer works for you - circumstances change. A co-parenting plan that does not work for everyone, even if mutually agreed, may cause conflict. When conflict arises, children's voices are at risk of going unheard. Consider speaking to your family lawyer or going back to mediation to make a new agreement.
Get friendly, practical advice from our family law solicitors
For expert advice about making arrangements for children upon divorce or dissolution, contact our children law solicitors in West Drayton on 01895 449288, in St Albans on 01727 840900 or send us an email.