About 280,000 children experience their parents’ separation each year. In 2020 there were private law court applications concerning 84,958 individual children, but all children’s lives are affected when parents separate. The way this is managed will affect the rest of their lives and influence their long-term mental welfare and future life chances. All children and young people should feel safe in their homes and have the opportunity to thrive.
Parental separation can happen at any point in a child’s life. Whenever it happens, the FSG seeks to promote childhoods in which all children whose parents live apart thrive. Children should not be subjected to childhoods dominated by parental conflict. They should be free to enjoy close and nurturing relationships with both parents, wherever safe to do so.
How parents handle separation will have a direct impact on their children, with lasting consequences which can endure throughout their lives. See ‘Early Information and Assessment’ and ‘Parent Support’ – for our recommendations for support for parents to manage separation safely.
It is not enough to create systems for the parents. Children also need support with the transition into life as a separated family and with the high conflict that they are often caught up in between their parents. Children’s worlds can feel very disrupted and unstable at this time.
A framework of support
The FSG recommends a framework of support services which children can access directly, which respects their rights, agency and needs. This should include information and services for children:
- to turn to, to talk about their family with someone who understands
- to get information about family separation, and what this means for children and young people
- to say what they would like, where the views of age-appropriate children can be fed back to the parents to inform the decisions being made about them
- A minority of young people will need separate representation themselves to challenge parental arrangements which are not in their interests.
Listening to the children
Children’s voices need to be heard more systematically when parents separate. Children have the right to have their voices heard when parents separate (UNCRC, Article 12). Research shows that children and young people want the opportunity to be heard. Hearing from children can promote more durable outcomes, reduce parental conflict and enhance relationships between parents, and parents and their children (Family Mediation Taskforce, 2016).
Although the welfare of the child is theoretically of paramount importance in law, in practice as Sir James Munby, former President of the Family Division, has pointed out:
“The court proceeds, if one bothers to think about what is going on, and most of the time we do not, on the blithe assumption that the truth-and a proper appraisal of what is in the child’s best interests-will in some mysterious way emerge from the adversarial process between the parents.”
Sir James Munby, Family Law 2015
The Rights Idea?
#TheRightsIdea? are two videos which follow the separation journeys of children from two families, one that settles through court proceedings and one through mediation. The videos explore children’s rights to information, consultation and representation when parents separate.
The second follows the journey of Tom only, whose parents settled in mediation following separation.
The PSHE Association and The Association of Citizenship Teaching have quality mark assured free to use lesson plans drafted by FSG members from the University of Exeter, the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) which are available:
Click here for the Family Justice Young People’s Board
The FJYPB has documented the stories of its members for several years in their ‘In Our Shoes’ series, capturing informative details of the experiences of young people in their journeys through the family courts.