It’s long been known that children can suffer when their parents divorce — and new research has found the fallout to be surprisingly powerful, with effects ranging from poor test scores to the onset of eating disorders. But the good news, according to Resolution, the U.K. organization behind the survey, is that it’s the level of angry fighting, and not the divorce itself, that appears to cause the most fallout.
“It’s not so much the fact of parental separation, it’s the conflict,” Resolution director Jo Edwards tells Yahoo Parenting. “A lot of it is the way that parents manage their conflict.
The organization of 6,500 family lawyers, mediators, and therapists in England and Wales is one that believes in a non-confrontational approach to divorce and other family conflicts. It surveyed 500 young people ages 14 to 22 about the effects of divorce, and discovered, among other findings, that one in five said that the split negatively impacted their GCSE scores (similar to SAT scores here). One in eight, meanwhile, said they tried or newly considered trying drugs, and one in three noted having a change in eating patterns and the possible beginnings of an eating disorder. In addition, nearly a third of respondents reported that one parent had attempted to turn them against the other; one in four said parents tried to involve them in their dispute; and almost a quarter said they found out on social media that one of their parents had a new partner.
“We were surprised and quite shocked by the extent of some of the findings,” Edwards notes, particularly when considering the impact of the 230,000 people in England and Wales, many of whom are parents, who divorce each year. That number is even larger in the more highly populated U.S., of course, which sees more than 800,000 divorces annually. “Many think that court is the only way” to hammer out the details of custody and visitations during a divorce, she says. But when both parents use mediation or therapy, and agree to go through their divorce in “a more civilized way, focusing mainly on the good of the family,” she says, children fare better.
“It’s the hostility and anger that so often puts kids in the middle — and young kids, in particular, blame themselves,” Ken Neumann, a child psychologist and founder of the New York City based Center for Family and Divorce Mediation. “Then they believe they’re bad and incorporate that belief into their lives, which leads to low self-esteem, doing poorly in school, eating disorders, drugs.”
The trick, he notes, is to not ever put your kids in the middle, and to “never fight in front of the kids — not even over the phone.” Further, Neumann advises, “Don’t empower them to make decisions, like, ‘Do you want to spend the holiday with me or your dad?’ Children don’t feel taken care of if they’re given the choices. They want to see their parents in charge and making decisions, which makes them feel safe.”
Barbara Rothberg, a New York–based divorce coach and family therapist, takes a particular tack when it comes to helping parents keep their anger at each other away from the kids. “I try to help them separate out the two roles, and to remind people that they are divorcing as spouses, not as parents,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “I try to redefine it as a business relationship of parenting.” Because, she explains, unless there is abuse, the goal should be to help both parents be good parents. “Kids do very well if parents do not put them in the middle — if you don’t use them, do not express anger in front of them, don’t ask questions like ‘who was daddy with last weekend?’ That’s not to say you’re not furious, but you keep that separate. If you really care about your kids, you need to do this.”
Last night I cuddled up on the sofa with my five-year-old daughter Ruby as we enjoyed one of her favourite TV shows.
It was The Story Of Tracy Beaker — who, I should explain to any non- parents, is a wonderful character created by the children’s author Jacqueline Wilson.
Tracy is a young girl growing up in a children’s home — she’s feisty and funny, but constantly fantastises about a better life. One with parents.
Whenever she goes into one of her reveries, claiming to have ‘hay fever’ when she wants to shed a tear, Ruby gets sad.
So last night, when hay fever struck Tracy, Ruby, too, became misty-eyed.
‘I’m so lucky to have a mummy and daddy,’ she said, hugging me. As I cuddled her back, I felt a terrible stab of guilt in my stomach.
For Ruby nearly didn’t have a daddy. For the first two-and-a-half years of her life, I did everything I could to scupper her relationship with her father.
In a fit of selfish pique, I attempted to come between them and deny them the right to love each other.
It was the most spiteful thing I’ve ever done.
Thank God her father, James, fought me all the way and dragged us through the hell of solicitors, legal bills and finally to the Family Court, where he won access to his little girl — access that was his by right.
He never gave up. Such is the testament of his love for Ruby. And for that, I will never be able to thank him enough.
I remember all too well that wretched day in the Family Court in March 2009 as we sat in front of the judge, with a solicitor between us. James, whom I’d once loved so dearly, looked grey and hollow.
I listened with a growing sense of shame as my legal team reeled off the acidic statement I’d made, littered with stupid accusations I’d dramatised to hurt him.
Even then I knew it was unfair, but I wanted to punish him. I blamed him for the break-up of our relationship and what better way to hurt him, I reasoned, than to take his daughter away?
The terrible struggle some fathers have to maintain contact with their children was highlighted last week when the Daily Mail told the story of an exemplary father who’d battled for 12 years to see his daughter after his former wife falsely accused him of sexually abusing her.
‘It’s like a bereavement,’ he said. ‘My anguish never stops. I wake up every morning with a knot of anxiety in my stomach. I don’t know where my daughter is. I don’t know how she is. I don’t even know if she is with her mother.’
To my eternal regret, it’s a torment I tried to inflict on the father of my child.
How could I do such a terrible thing? In my defence, I should explain I didn’t know any better.
My mother, Brenda, 73, and father, Bob, 78, though married, have never lived in the same house — they split up before I was born.
Throughout my childhood, I only ever saw my father at sporadic intervals. I still harbour resentments at all the years I spent as the ‘mediator’ in their fractured relationship.
Somehow, I thought misguidedly I would be doing my daughter a favour in sparing her this disruption if I severed all ties with her father. Ruby, I concluded, didn’t need James. She had me: I was all she needed.
How terribly wrong I was.
I’d met James, a 42-year-old newspaper reporter, when we worked together in Bristol in 2003. We were just friends until a Christmas fling in 2006 changed everything. We weren’t even a proper couple when I discovered I was pregnant in April 2007.
James was shocked, but nevertheless said he would support me no matter what. So we decided to give parenthood, and our relationship, our best shot.
We moved to the South Coast, rented a family home and determined to make it work. But our path was not to be a smooth one.
After a traumatic birth, in which Ruby and I almost died due to pre-eclampsia — a condition caused by high blood pressure, which affects 5 per cent of women in later pregnancy — I spent two weeks in hospital.
I was hardly able to pick up my newborn baby, let alone breastfeed her, and struggled to bond with her.
I don’t use this as an excuse for the bad behaviour that was to come, but the tranquil birth I’d dreamt of had been smashed to pieces. I sank into depression.
I pushed away James because I felt so sad, when all I really wanted was his love and help.
It was hardly a big surprise, then, that after a few months of sleepless nights with a newborn, tension and arguments, our relationship was in tatters.
Ruby was ten months old when I announced I was leaving. James was utterly taken aback.
I think he thought we’d somehow muddle through, but my mind was made up.
I convinced myself I could just sweep the matter of my baby’s father under the carpet. The scars of my parents’ acrimonious break-up ran deep.
I moved into a flat in Hove, East Sussex, in October 2008 and set about making it as difficult as possible for James to see his daughter.
I ignored his calls, refused to answer the door and slandered him to anyone who would listen.
I told everyone he was a dreadful father: he didn’t give her enough to drink; didn’t change her nappy often enough; and his flat was a tip.
Today I can admit my unhappiness was to blame, not James’s ability as a father.
I thought that if I just ignored him for long enough then he’d disappear. He’d give up and find someone else to pester. Ruby and I would be happy on our own.
But, thank God, James never gave up. When all negotiation failed, he sought legal advice and decided to fight me to gain access to his child.
He didn’t even go for shared custody, just the right to form some sort of relationship with her.
Despite this, I still convinced myself that James was trying to take my baby away from me and set out to fight him like a lioness.
The irony of Ruby’s first word was not lost on me: it was ‘Daddy’. But still I fought to wipe him from her life.
We spent thousands of pounds and the best part of a year in court and at each other’s throats.
James could have given up at any stage and, looking at his broken figure at the other end of the bench in court, I realised just how far I’d pushed him.
Finally, an agreement was reached. The judge ruled that Ruby would stay overnight with James every other Saturday. Begrudgingly, I capitulated.
As Ruby and James set about rebuilding their relationship, I began to see just what a precious bond they shared.
They looked so much alike and, as Ruby’s personality developed, I realised how alike they were in so many other ways.
They had the same quirky sense of humour and deep concentration at something that caught their interest.
I saw all of the qualities I’d loved and admired in James develop in our little girl. I even felt joy when she came home and chirped happily about their time together.
Having gone from barely mentioning or seeing her father, I saw their relationship blossom and it brought about a thaw in our relationship, too.
“Without a father in her life, she would be bereft of so much love. What child, whatever the situation, deserves to be deprived of that?”
James and I began to trust each other again and to exchange pleasantries when we met until, finally, we became good friends.
He says he has forgiven me. I thank him for that and admire his maturity.
Today, Ruby and James see each other most weekends, but the arrangement is informal.
He sees her whenever he likes. If he’s ten minutes away, he’ll pop in for a cup of tea and help Ruby with her spellings. Often she has a painting she just has to show her Daddy right now and, of course, that isn’t a problem.
They chat on the phone most days. And the three of us spent Christmas Day together.
I know in an ideal world that Ruby would have a mummy and daddy who live together, but this is the next best thing.
Without a father in her life, she would be bereft of so much love. What child, whatever the situation, deserves to be deprived of that?
She brings endless joy when she draws pictures of the three of us, and my dog Ralph, standing together and smiling.
Thankfully, all she remembers is a mummy and daddy who are friends and prioritise her before any emotion we might be feeling.
If James hadn’t fought me in court, Ruby wouldn’t be the delightful, clever, kind and happy child she is today.
I’m just glad I eventually saw through my own resentment and hurt — and put my child first.
The first time I was punished for not showing enough affection for my mother, or showing too much for my father, happened when I was 6. My 4 year old brother and I had left my mom’s house for Saturday visitation with my dad at the usual time of 9:00. Our parents had divorced a year earlier, so the routine of custody exchange had become familiar to us, and except for a handful of times they overtly shouted at one another, we were too young and oblivious to notice a palpable current of hostility between them. On our way out the door, my mom called after us, telling us to have a nice day, or something. I said over my shoulder, “Yeah, bye!”
We got into his car and traveled the 15 minutes to his “new house,” purchased nearby to facilitate the semblance of a shadow of a presence in our lives that the Family Court grudgingly deigned to allow. We had an unremarkable day of watching cartoons, riding bikes, and engaging in the subdued rituals of weekend play in an environment that never quite lost its alien character to us. Our time there took on a forced, artificial property like a visit to an in-law, or a party at your boss’ house with coworkers you’re kind of familiar with on a passing basis. When we came home that evening, it started immediately. Our mother wouldn’t speak to or acknowledge us. When she looked down at us, it was to convey an expression of contempt and disgust before turning away. Coming from someone who routinely proclaimed that she loved us more than anything in the world, and that she was all we had, this experience was terrifying.
“Mommy, what’s wrong? Why won’t you talk to me?” After what seemed an eternity of unbearable silence punctuated only by body language that broadcast hostility so clearly that even a small child could understand it, she finally responded, “Don’t talk to me, talk to your father,” and left the room. In tears, we pursued her, “We’re sorry, mommy! Please don’t be mad!” We tried to hug her and she pushed us away, then said, “You know, maybe you should just live with your father instead of me. I did my best to be a good mother, but you seem to like that better. Let’s pack your stuff and you can move away with him.” She intoned each word with a mixture of feigned resignation and practiced anger. Our entire world seemed to collapse before our eyes. We wailed, we pleaded, we apologized.
Eventually she explained the impetus for the situation. We hadn’t been affectionate enough with her on our way out the door. Her feelings were hurt because we didn’t respond to whatever it was she said as we left. I, in particular, was too cavalier in responding “Yeah, bye!” without telling her that I loved her. She added to the implicit message in her display of vindictiveness an explicit warning that we were not to do that again.
What came later built on that foundation of manipulative extortion, and shattered my relationship with my own father for the next 15 years. The process started in earnest another evening, probably a few months later, when my brother and I came home from another visitation. She told us in a somber, foreboding tone that she had something important to tell us.
She sat on the sofa while we sat on the floor in front of her. She told my brother and I, children of 6 and 4, that our father was going to take away our home. She said he had tricked the court handling the divorce into giving him too much money, and she couldn’t afford to pay him. But our father was a bad guy, and wanted to hurt her, and us. So he got an order from the court that she would have to either pay him the money, or sell our house. She didn’t know where we would go, or what would happen to us.
In reality, my mother and father had bought and paid the mortgage on the house together. When they divorced and my dad moved out, my mom demanded that the Family Court transfer the house to her free and clear of any obligation to my dad – essentially strip him of his equity in the house. He refused to turn over tens of thousands of dollars to her for no reason, and the court ended up giving him an equitable lien on the house in the amount of his contributions to it. The court decided it would be psychologically damaging to my brother and I to lose the house we lived in, so it held off on ordering a partition and sale of the house until we were both 18. But my mom was all too happy to turn that into a story about my dad villainously trying to make us homeless. She was sure to add that the judge had ordered that my brother and I not be told of this, because we were too young to handle it. But she knew how smart and grownup we were, so we could handle the truth. However, it was very, very, very important that we not let on that she had told us, or she could get in trouble. From then on, it was our secret.
After that day, I hated my dad as intensely any child could hate another human being. I refused to visit with him. When I did go, I refused to interact with him. Then my mom started to encourage my brother and I to misbehave while we were there. We would bring back stories of breaking a storm window on his house with a rock, closing the car door on his leg, and yelling and misbehaving.
These stories were received with as much approval and enthusiasm as the earlier failure to be affectionate with her garnered rage and contempt. She would smile from ear to ear, hug us, tell us how brave we were, and how proud of us she was in “standing up” to him. “Standing up” to a man who barely ever spoke a cross word and never once raised a hand to either of us, even as we devised more and better ways of acting up, antagonizing him, and making the time we spent with him as miserable as possible.
That went on for the next five years. Everything we said about whatever went on during our visits was met with some explanation of why whatever he said or did was wrong, or abusive, or stupid. We were told dozens upon dozens of new stories about him and why our mom had to divorce him to keep him away from us. He was a compulsive gambler. He was violent with her. He was a power-crazed maniac out to control all of our lives. He was a pathological liar. He tried to steal from our maternal grandmother. Don’t believe anything he says. Don’t accept anything he does. He’s trying to keep you away from your real family who love you and miss you very much when you’re gone. Never let him forget you don’t want to be there. To my mom, my brother, and I, he gradually became the living embodiment of all that was evil in our world.
What chance did he ever have when we were submersed in that propaganda campaign 6 days a week? I’ve often thought back and wondered to myself if there was any combination of words or actions that would have reached us then, and honestly the answer is no. No matter what he said, we’d hear for the next week that it was a trick or a lie. No matter what he did, we knew better than to respond favorably, or god forbid – let our mom know we held anything other than unadulterated hatred for the man. She proudly told us, “When he left us, you were babies, but now you’re my soldiers.”
When I was 11, things came to a head. I don’t even remember how or why. I do recall it was nothing extraordinary. Another argument about how we hated it at his place, didn’t want to see him, and if he really cared about us, he’d leave us alone to live at our real house where we liked it. All lines fed to us and rehearsed with mom. How could he expect us to love him if he forced us to be with him? It was an unsolvable dilemma for him that we had talked over countless times before. Previously, he would ask, “Well, what can I do to make your time here better? What is it about spending time with me that you don’t like?” There really was no answer to that question, other than the real truth of what was going on that I’m sure he heard behind the angry denouncements of his children. “It just sucks here! Why do we have to explain anything to you? Can’t you just listen to us and leave us alone?!” And, that last time, he did just that.
He must have known that he was fighting an unwinnable battle for our hearts and minds. Anything he said would be drowned out with more accusations. Anything he did would be lost in a din of insults and demeaning mistreatment, egged on by the only parent we knew for 85% of our lives. All that was left was to do what we asked – to leave us alone. So, one spring day, he finally did.
We returned home like conquering heroes. Our mom squealed with joy and pride like I never heard from her again, even the day I got my college admissions notices. But the torrent of attacks didn’t stop even then. When someone was behaving selfishly, or inconsiderately, they were “acting like him.” When conflicts reached their fever pitch, the old threat still came out, “Maybe I’ll just send you away to live with your father.”
He and I wouldn’t see or speak to one another until I was 22. My paternal grandfather died and I saw him at the funeral. I still believed him to be the monster my mother described, and said little to him then. But in the ensuing years, we saw more of each other, and with the benefit of adult reasoning, I looked back and saw how transparently manipulative it had all been. Given the chance to meaningfully speak in his own defense, my dad explained the issue with the house, and told me about his experiences through the divorce, and the tempest of bitter conflict that followed. We’re doing our best to fill the 20-year hole in our lives left there by the weaponization of children in divorces, and I’m much closer to him now than I am to her.
So. That’s my story. I had meant to post this on Father’s Day, but time got away from me and whatnot. Still, I see threads in this subreddit from divorced fathers expressing grief and frustration over the damage to their relationships with their children caused by vengeful spouses. I hope that the opportunity to look at this from the perspective of a child in these situations might help, and the happy ending to my story might offer hope to you noncustodial dads out there.
So. Ask me (almost) anything. I won’t say anything that might identify me, for reasons that should be pretty clear. But if you want to know what it feels like for a child to be constantly inundated with false accusations, insults, and conditioning to hate and fear the other parent, and what it was like to finally emerge from that cave to see daylight, I’ll add anything that might be useful or hopeful.
It’s Time To Stand Up Against Unfair Treatment: No Indians Or Dogs Allowed
From D.J., a grandmother:
I would like to share with you a story. One that was told to me by my mother, one that I have never forgotten. My dad was white and my mother was Native American. Before they were married, when they would go on a date, my mother would tell of times that she was not allowed in certain businesses.
Why you might ask. Some businesses back then had signs on their doors that would read…NO INDIANS OR DOGS ALLOWED. Therefore, my Dad would go in alone, while my Mom was forced to stay outside. Hurtful and sad to my Mom? Yes. But that’s not the reason I share this story with you. I share this story because I find strength in knowing that somewhere along the line; someone must have stood up as a group, like the Shared Parenting Supporters, and were successful in changing the laws, so that those signs could no longer exist. As times change, so must the laws.
For the last several years I have watched while my grandchildren are pulled away from their Daddy every two weeks and watch them cry as they hold out their arms to him as they leave. And I have watched my son sit at my kitchen table and cry like a baby after they have gone. Those of you that have children know that your children are your children, no matter how old they are. And when your children hurt, you hurt. Despite the thousands of dollars he has spent in attorney fees, he still has limited time with his children and they with him. He is denied phone calls and is only allowed to talk to them for a few minutes twice a week within a one hour time frame. The children are sent to their rooms if they ask to call their Dad and are punished if they cry when he takes them back to the custodial parent. My granddaughter tells me she wishes she could see her guidance counselor everyday because she says every day she is sad. The same granddaughter shares with me that she has nightmares about her Mom (the custodial parent) chasing her and her friend with a knife! How many five year old girls dream such dreams about their Mom? The court says they are doing what is in the best interest of the children. I beg to disagree. I write this to you today as a proud Native American Mother, Aunt and most importantly Grandmother… because my children and my grandchildren need me to. I stand proud with my son as he struggles to change the custody laws and because the children of North Dakota need me to tell my story.
There are families in your State, North Dakotan’s, father’s mothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and yes, children, that have had something that belongs to them taken away…a parent and an entire side of their family, and are hurting because of our outdated custody laws.
It is time for change. I am here today to ask the voters of North Dakota to Please support Measure 6…for the children!
Despite the existence of family court agreements spelling out visitation rights following divorce or separation, more than 40 percent of parents who don’t live with their children remain unable to have any contact with them, a survey conducted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has revealed.
Although it had been known that many parents were not able to visit their children despite the existence of such agreements, the extent of the situation had not been understood prior to this study.
The survey was conducted between February and April this year, with the assistance of lawyers nationwide, on parents who had filed for visitation agreements with family courts. It focused on how satisfied they were with child visitation agreements, whether visits that had been agreed upon were actually occurring, and the payment of child-support fees, among other issues.
Forty-four percent of the 296 respondents indicated that they were “unable to see their children at all.” Twenty-four percent said that they were “able to see their children in accordance with the agreements that had been made,” while 32 percent responded that they were “able to see their children, although not exactly to the letter of the agreement.”
On why court-granted visits were not occurring, the highest response, at 37 percent, was either that “The children did not want it, or the parent living with the children informed me that the children did not want it.” Meanwhile, 31 percent said, “The parent living with the children will not let me see them.”
With respect to how visits took place, 51 percent reported that arrangements were made directly between the couple or ex-couple, while 24 percent said that “relatives were offering assistance” with visitation. Ten percent cited the involvement of third-party organizations. The latter figure revealed that the system of providing institutional support for visitation remains underdeveloped.
One parent who has been deprived of visits remarked via the survey, “Even if I send an e-mail (to the parent living with the children), I don’t get a response for a week or so — and even then, I just get the runaround.”
Meanwhile, parents living with their children pointed out issues such as, “(The parent living apart from the children) is not fulfilling their proper parental responsibilities.”
Survey comments from parents who have been able to visit their children included, “I am receiving assistance from lawyers,” and, “My children are now in the upper grades of elementary school, so I am able to make visitation arrangements with them directly.”
Michiko Fujiwara, a lawyer with the Daini Tokyo Bar Association who assisted with the survey, commented, “The family courts are unable to provide support after agreements have been signed.” She added, “A system is needed wherein local governments and organization-based experts are able to assist or coordinate between parties who are finding it difficult to carry out the stipulated visitation agreements.”
In order to help parents understand the importance of child visitation, the Tokyo Family Court has begun providing them with picture books that illustrate children’s feelings. A special room has also been set up on the court premises to facilitate trial visits, featuring children’s toys and stuffed animals in order to help create a warm atmosphere.
Kazuko Yao, a judge with the Tokyo Family Court who specializes in divorce and visitation agreements, commented, “Even if parents split up, the act of facilitating visitation can help children understand that they are loved. I hope that parents (who are outlining visitation agreements) will put the children first.”
Tokyo Family Court associate examiner Hajime Shiino additionally remarked, “When children are growing healthily, it will also benefit the parents.”