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Kathy Gyngell: For children, there is no such thing as a civilised divorce


On Monday the results of a survey of 500 children of divorcees commissioned by Resolution, the 6,500-strong association of family lawyers, made the front page of The Times. And rightly so. The damage inflicted by divorce each year on some 100,000 under-16-year-olds reported was specific and graphic.

No one reading it could stay in denial about divorce’s consequences – from poor examination results to eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, the agony of disruption to their lives went on.

Almost two thirds of those interviewed said their parents’ break-up affected their GCSEs. One in eight said that they had turned to drugs or alcohol to ease the stress. They spoke of the pressure parents put on them during the divorce process. Nearly a third said one parent had tried to turn them against the other. Almost a fifth said they never saw grandparents again.

Almost a quarter of children said they 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”.

It laid to rest any vestigial argument that divorce can be better for, or somehow ‘good’ for children.

Much as parents may want to think this (to make their selfish desires seem less selfish) with this report they can no longer escape the very different reality.

Since the damage to children is undeniable however good divorce maybe for the parent(s),  the question arises why should the children be the ones to make the sacrifice? Why should their interests and needs be subjugated? a profound and pertinent question.

I wondered whether it would be discussed on the Today programme? But I wasn’t holding my breath. The report hadn’t even made the BBC news headlines. I wasn’t altogether surprised that the BBC might find it easier to ignore such uncomfortable findings.

Then, at the 11th hour, 8.57am to be accurate, the topic was squeezed into the programme. The once married (two children) and twice partnered (one more child) Mr Humphrys interviewed Jo Edwards of the Resolution Association as to what it all meant.

“Is it the fact that their parents have been divorced or is it the way it happened?” he kicked off.

“That’s a very good point”, she replied, “It’s all about the way divorce or separation has been handled by the parents….. children are affected by the conflict that can go on in the separation, not by the fact of the divorce itself.”

Really?  John didn’t challenge this extraordinary deduction from the research. Yet this specious theory was surely one and the same that splitting up parents delude themselves with.

By contrast he seemed only too ready to believe Jo’s snappy solution to the plight children find themselves in. If only parents would resolve their divorce quickly and amicably (though wouldn’t that count as staying married?) then their children could carry on with their education as though nothing had happened.

Well that was the gist of it.

Yes it was all about how divorce is done; all about letting children have their say in the shindig – ‘bringing in the voice of the child’ as Jo called it. And exam grades would go back up.

But wouldn’t really listening to ‘the child’s voice’ involve the parents in settling their differences for the sake of their child – or children? by staying together after all  – which is overwhelmingly, what most children would ask for?  Guess what, that’s just what divorcing parents steadfastly refuse to hear.

Neither John, nor sadly Jo, got it. However civilised the management of the separation is, it is still that – a separation and break up for ever, often with the prospect of step parents or step families too.

The truth is divorce doesn’t stop after the proceedings.  The separation is lived day in and day out. It’s not parked once the judge’s ruling is made or mediators’ advice taken. Life does not return to normal.

Even if parental love is not absent there is still uncertainty, emotional and financial. “Step families are difficult constructs at the best of times”, one woman commented sadly on The Times report. “I think”, she wrote, “the early age (I was at the time of my parents’ divorce) meant I spent a great deal of time trying to be perfect and not upset anyone”.

Neither the BBC, John and Jo wanted to know though. I was not surprised.

Divorce after all stems from “.. a culture of the temporary” that the Pope spoke about last week, at the historic Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman,  the very culture the BBC represents today – and promotes.

It is a culture, the Pope explained, “ which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment – a revolution in manners and morals (which) has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings…..”.

It was never likely that the BBC, personified in John Humphrys, would understand.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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