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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Divorce: How it affects children
Sad boy
Children sometimes feel they don't have a say in arrangements
Following new government plans for parents going through divorce, BBC News Online takes a look at how divorce affects children.

"I've been arguing with my dad and I don't always get on with my step-mum. I don't see my real mum anymore but I'd like to live with her once a week and dad the next.

"I'm worried about telling dad about how I feel in case he stops me contacting my mum - he says it took years to sort out custody." -Danny (not his real name) 11, in a call to Childline.

This is just one of the 16,000 calls Childline receives each year from children with family problems.

'No one listening'

"After my parents split up mum got custody and I wasn't allowed to see dad. But I was upset that I didn't have any choice so I decided to contact him. Mum went mad when she found out and now she screams and shouts at me about it." - Sophie, (not her real name) 13, a caller to ChildLine.

ChildLine's director of policy and communications, Natasha Finlayson, says children often feel they are not involved in decisions about contact arrangements.

"In extreme cases when children's voices are not heard, they are forced to spend time with parents they do not want to see.

You need to establish a formal relationship between the parents so that contact can be arranged - that's the tough bit
Marilyn Stowe, Family lawyer

"In less extreme cases children are often obliged to sacrifice their own interests and occupations to spend prescribed times with one or other carer."

Marilyn Stowe, family lawyer in Harrogate, says although children should be involved in the decision making process, it is hard to determine whether they are genuinely expressing an independent view.

"One classic example is where dad is having an affair and mum reacts badly, and so the child wishes to protect the mother.

"The child will say 'I don't want to see dad.'"

She said sometimes in these situations the father and the child relinquish their usual roles and begin treating each other as if they were equals.

"Once the child realises that it's dad, not this person that they don't want to see, then you can heal the wound."

She said it can be upsetting for parents to hear their child talk to the other parent on the phone, or see them writing letters.

"It's important to establish a form of contact between the child and parents that's sensitive."

She added that the child's motives for making contact should also be questioned.

A child more than anything would like to move freely between the parents without conflict. They don't want to be pulled into it - they don't want to be a messenger
Marion Stevenson, Oxfordshire Family Mediation,
"It could be they resent the fact that the mother is controlling time with the father, and this is their way of hurting them."

"You need to establish a formal relationship between the parents so that contact can be arranged - that's the tough bit."

Mediation

Marion Stevenson, mediator and practice manager at Oxfordshire Family Mediation, told BBC News Online they offer the child three or four sessions exclusively with a mediator.

This is where the child can talk to the person helping to solve the dispute about their wishes or concerns.

"I find it rare that the child will say I want to see more of my dad but my mum won't let me, but that's not to say it doesn't happen.

"The really big issue for children is that they don't want their parents to fight.

"You can't overestimate the anxiety conflict puts on a child.

"A child more than anything would like to move freely between the parents without conflict. They don't want to be pulled into it - they don't want to be a messenger.

"One thing that escalates tension and conflict is a lot of court, a lot of solicitors - the system polarises views and stimulates anxieties about the other parent's motives.

"You get a spiral of conflict."

  • The children's names in this story have been changed to protect their real identities.


  • SEE ALSO:
    Letwin backs access for parents
    21 Oct 03 |  UK Election 2005


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