Is there such a thing as a “good” divorce? In reality, I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question. Some separations are unquestionably for the best, yet emotional trauma for the individuals involved, especially any children, is a given. Good Divorce Week, however, is an event that aims to help separating couples and their families reduce that trauma and ensure the bets possible outcome for all families.
The week, which runs from 29 November until 3 December, is backed by Resolution, a specialist group of family law professionals. This year, Resolution has produced a guide for parents called Parenting Through Separation with the aim of helping couples put their children first as they navigate the divorce process and build separate lives.
In this Q&A, Juliet Harvey, national chair of Resolution, talks more about the organisations work and the guide. Harvey also offers some tips for separating parents, including how to communicate with your ex.
What is Good Divorce Week?
It’s Resolution’s annual campaign to highlight the work that family law professionals do and to demonstrate the range of services we can offer.
Resolution are a group of family justice professionals (including lawyers, mediators, therapists and coaches) from around the country. We work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way.
Divorce and separation are not experiences that anyone wants to go through, but they don’t necessarily have to be bitter or difficult. Engaging a legal professional early on, such as a lawyer who is a member of Resolution can really help to smooth the process, save money and acrimony and ensure the best possible outcome for all parties. Many of our members also work with other professionals to support families through separation and beyond.
Why is the theme of this year’s Good Divorce Week ‘Parenting Through Separation’?
The latest statistics from the family courts show that more children than ever before were involved in private law applications. These are legal processes to determine matters such as who the child lives with or how much time they spend with each parent, in England and Wales in the last 12 months.
We know that family breakdown is never easy for children or parents. But the vast experience of Resolution members means we have some expertise in what works and what doesn’t, what parents can do to limit the stress for their kids and how to achieve the best outcome for the adults too.
All parents want to put their children first and protect them from the fallout of a separation, but often there’s little help or advice available on how to do that. A poll we commissioned for Good Divorce Week found two thirds of separated parents said they lacked help or advice about how to put their children first when they split from their partner.
That’s why we produced the Parenting Through Separation guide (see link below) to help and support parents at a time when they really need it.
What’s in the Parenting Through Separation guide?
It covers all sorts of aspects of separation and how to put children first throughout. Two members of our Parenting After Parting Committee that put the guide together share their personal experiences of parenting through separation. There’s plenty of useful information and reassurance about the emotional and practical elements of a relationship coming to an end.
And there’s help on what to do when your relationship ends, how and when to involve children and how to talk to young people who may be affected.
There’s also an explanation of how a legal professional can help and the different options available to parents who are separating short of going to court.
What are those options?
Mediation: You and your ex-partner appoint an independent mediator, who is a trained professional, to guide discussions around your new co-parenting arrangements. You can also go for child inclusive mediation in which your children take part and which is a good way to ensure their voice is heard.
Arbitration: This is a quicker and less formal alternative to court if you and your ex-partner have an issue you can’t resolve. It’s also more private than going to court. An arbitrator hears both sides and makes a legally binding ruling.
Collaborative law: You and your ex-partner separately instruct legal professionals and then you and your respective lawyers attend round table meetings to find agreement.
Most Resolution members will also negotiate with your ex-partner’s lawyer to help you both make lasting agreements about your children’s futures.
There are other options such as attending a co-parenting course or working with a family consultant or, as a last resort, going to court.
What other tips are in the Parenting Through Separation guide?
One vital tip that parents sometimes overlook is that it’s important to look after yourself first and foremost while going through a separation. To that end you might want to think about putting in place a support team including a legal advisor, a financial advisor and, crucially, friends and family or perhaps some therapeutic support .
Any advice on how to communicate with your ex?
Choose your time to talk carefully. For example, don’t start a conversation late in the day when you’re both tired. Choose your words carefully and perhaps write down the points you want to cover. Set a pre-determined time to talk, don’t allow the conversation to go on too long or you can end up going round in circles. Don’t have your conversations while the children are around. Think about taking the conversation out of the home. And if you’re not making progress then get help from a therapist, counsellor or legal professional.
When should you tell your kids about a separation and how much should you involve them?
Many children that have been involved in a family separation say they were told too late, so choose your moment carefully.
Initially it’s best if you can talk to your children as a couple, and keep the chat fairly short as there’s only so much a child can take in at a time, but be prepared to have a series of follow up conversations. Reassure your children that it’s OK to feel sad or scared, emotions are fine.
Of course, how you talk to your children will depend on their age and maturity. The guide contains advice and useful language to use with children of all ages.
How much you involve children will also vary. But it is important to listen to them and ensure their voice is heard. The one thing children going through separation tend to tell professionals is that their parents don’t listen to them enough.
The polling we commissioned for Good Divorce Week showed how separation can impact children – 25% of parents reported a loss of confidence in their children, 23% said the children suffered from depression and one in 10 said their children showed violent outbursts.
What else did that polling reveal?
That the vast majority of parents want and need help and advice on parenting through separation. In total, 67% agreed with the statement that there was a “lack of help and advice on putting children first” as they went through separation.
When asked where they turned to try to get that information, the largest group said they asked family and friends. Around a third engaged a solicitor or legal professional, and the majority of those said it was an effective way to get the advice they needed.
Has the pandemic made co-parenting harder?
Our polling found around one in four separated parents said they’d faced more stress since the pandemic began and one in three said it had been more difficult to keep co-parenting arrangements in place.
Where can people go for more information about Resolution and the Parenting Through Separation guide?
Visit the Resolution website. There you can search by postcode to find a professional in your area who will be able to help you. You can also download the Parenting Through Separation guide and find a number of other resources that will be helpful to make a separation as smooth as possible.
When parents learn to work together to support their children, this leads to outcomes that are better not only for children, but also for parents themselves. Our vision is of a world where families facing difficult change are supported so they can achieve child-focused solutions and for conflict to be taken out of family law disputes.