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Entries in children's views (3)


Children want more involvement in divorce decisions

A study conducted in London on behalf of the English family law organisation Resolution and supported by Consensus Collaboration Scotland revealed clear views of children relating to their involvement in divorce related decisions.

Half of young people indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live following their parents’ separation or divorce.

88% say it is important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between their parents.

62% of children and young people polled disagreed with the statement that their parents made sure they were part of the decision-making process about their separation or divorce.

The publicity for this study focussed on the fact that 82% of young people said that it was better that their parents divorced than stayed together unhappily, but an equally important finding was that 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to be horrible about each other to them, and 30% said they would have liked their parents to understand what it felt like to be in the middle of the process. A worrying 19% said that they sometimes felt that the divorce was their fault.

Jo Edwards the chair of Resolution said: “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 study involved interviews of 514 young people aged 14 – 22 with experience of parental divorce or separation from a long term cohabiting relationship over a year ago, plus five longer qualitative interviews.

Resolution has launched a parenting charter setting out what children should expect during divorce:

  • be at the centre of any decisions made about their lives
  • feel and be loved and cared for by both parents
  • know and have contact with both sides of their families, including any siblings who may not live with them, as long as they are safe
  • a childhood, including freedom from the pressures of adult concerns such as financial worries

Shared care research questions shared care law

A week before the FNF Scotland event in Edinburgh about Parental Alienation, a research report from the Nuffield Foundation challenges the need for shared care legislation, stating that "Resident parents were much more likely to have actively encouraged contact than to have undermined it."

Based on surveys of 400 young people and in-depth interviews with 50 of them, it illustrates what does and doesn't work about contact arrangements from the young person's point of view. 

This is an important and useful piece of work, and the interview quotes should give all separated parents much to think about.  It suggests that key ingredients in successful contact include the absence of parental conflict; a good pre-separation relationship between the child and the (future) non-resident parent; the non-resident parent demonstrating his/her commitment to the child and the child being consulted about the arrangements.

But it seems regrettable that such useful research has been accompanied by a very one-sided view of the proposed shared-parenting legislation. 

The leader of the study, Professor Jane Fortin, comments that:  "The strongest theme from our study is the importance of tailoring contact arrangements to the needs and wishes of the individual child in their particular circumstances. This is best achieved by retaining the courts' discretion to determine whether or not the welfare of the particular child in question would be furthered by the involvement sought by the litigant parent.

"To commit the court to presuming that such involvement will further the child's welfare is to apply a simplistic, broad-brush approach to the subtle complexities of the child-parent relationship."

The shared parenting amendment to the Children Act does seek to introduce a consideration that both parents matter, but it certainly doesn't remove the discretion of the court - stating quite clearly " if that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm."

The two contrasting case studies chosen for the summary report also seem remarkably one-sided - one talks about positive memories of having contact with a non-resident mother, the other refers to negative experiences of contact with a non-resident father.  

And given that the study didn't include any respondents who could be defined as "alienated", it is surprising that chapter 13 raises such concerns about parental alienation, while omitting to mention the most recent UK study by Kirk Weir. 


Helping Children Comment on Contact

A new leaflet designed to help children comment on both positive and negative apects of contact with the parent they don't live with has been developed by the Scottish Child Law Centre.

Launched at the recent SCLC conference on Listening To Children in Contested Actions and supported by the Family Law Group of the Murray Stable, the leaflet is filled in by a child or young person with assistance from an independent adult helper.

The form has space for the child to note things that make contact good and also things that make it hard, using a "helping hand" design to collect up to five positive and five negative comment.  The form could be used in court proceedings, and could also be used to make comments to the parent they live with or the parent with whom they are having contact.

Contact the SCLC o0n 0131 667 633 or enquiries@sclc.org.uk for further details.