Revealed: shocking cost of divorce for children

SHAFAQNA – Divorce has a devastating impact on the children of divided couples, leading to poor examination results and driving them to abuse alcohol or drugs, according to a survey being made public today.

Almost two thirds of children whose parents divorced said that the break-up affected their GCSEs. One in eight said that they had turned to drugs or alcohol to ease the stress.

Divorce also appears to trigger eating disorders, with almost one in three children saying that they ate more, or less, after the family break-up. Each year about 100,000 under-16s experience divorce. The survey of children and young people aged 14 to 22 was commissioned by Resolution, the 6,500-strong association of family lawyers in England and Wales. Jo Edwards, its chairman, said the findings showed the far-reaching impact of divorce.

“Almost half of all break-ups occur when there is at least one child in the relationship, and with 230,000 people in England and Wales gong through a divorce each year, and many separating, this issue affects hundreds of thousands of families in Britain,” she said. “The findings underline just how important it is that parents going through a split manage their separation in a way that minimises the stress and impact on the entire family,” she added.

The survey of 500 young people also showed the pressure that parents put on children during the divorce process.

Nearly one in three said one parent had tried to turn them against the other and more than a quarter said their parents tried to involve them in their dispute. Almost a fifth said they never saw grandparents again.

Divorce is of growing concern to schools, which struggle to deal with the fall-out from the breakdown of relationships. Siôn Humphreys, a senior policy adviser at the National Association of Headteachers, said: “Teachers see day in, day out, the impact separation can have. It would not be unusual for the school to be the first port of call to support the parent left holding the baby, but it is not necessarily something teachers are specially trained for.”

The survey also found that almost a quarter of children struggled to complete homework, essays or assignments; 12 per cent confessed to skipping lessons and 11 per cent found themselves “getting into more trouble at school, college or university”.

Sir Paul Coleridge, a family High Court judge who set up the charity The Marriage Foundation, said: “Children almost never perform at their highest potential when their emotional life is chaotic, and family breakdown is the arch contributor to that. How many more studies and statistics do we need before we all, including government, wake and take this issue seriously? It is so unfair on the children and their life chances.”​

The findings coincide with Family Dispute Resolution Week in which family lawyers are promoting ways to settle divorce disputes that avoid going to court. Options included mediation and arbitration in which couples, helped by solicitors, worked together to sort out arrangements for money and children. Ms Edwards said such methods could be quick and cost effective.

Simon Hughes, the family justice minister, said: “We are reforming the family justice system so that children are at its heart and their voices are heard. We also want to keep families away from negative effects of court battles and make sure that when cases do go to court they proceed in the least damaging way.

“Mediation works and we are committed to make sure that more people use it. This is why we have changed the law so that anyone considering a court application must consider mediation and we have provided funding for more free sessions.”‬

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