Divorce is undoubtedly a painful and emotional process, sometimes culminating into a battle for maintenance, assets and custody. While the emotional struggles of the couple are often acknowledged, children often end up as the overlooked victims caught in their parents’ crossfire. If left unaddressed, it could lead to severe repercussions. Some of these include withdrawn social behaviour, delinquency, and increased crime.
In fact, 53% of young offenders, or youths whom a Beyond Parental Control order was made, came from families in which their parents were either separated or divorced.1 Parents may be so emotionally consumed that they do not realize the potential long lasting, adverse impact of the divorce on their children. It is inevitable that children will have to make substantial adjustments to their way of life following their parents’ divorce. Nonetheless, as a parent, you can help to smoothen the process as much as possible. Here are 4 ways you can help your child through a divorce:
1. Pre-divorce: If you are a parent with minor children, utilise the mandatory parenting programme
Following the 2016 Amendments to the Women’s Charter, by the end of the year, divorcing couples with children below the age of 21 will be required to attend a mandatory parenting programme before they can file for divorce. This involves a two-hour session with an appointed counsellor. During this time, the counsellor would discuss how both parents can work together, known as co-parenting, to achieve an optimal outcome for their child. A key topic that would also be covered is how best to break the news of divorce to the children. Prior to the changes, divorcing parents only needed to attend mandatory mediation and counselling after a writ of divorce has been filed.
The implication of this change is that parents are reminded from the beginning that although divorce is a matter between the couple, the child’s interests should be of utmost importance. In the best case scenario, such counselling sessions may possibly avert the divorce altogether by providing an avenue to resolve the conflicts between the couple amicably. Hence though mandatory, you can choose to make the most out of the programme. There is always a chance that a favourable outcome could be achieved for both parties.
2. During the divorce: Consider mediation in place of litigation
Given our adversarial litigation process, divorce proceedings can be protracted and unpleasant. This may in turn result in higher legal costs. Instead of looking to adjudication as the only way to proceed with a divorce, mediation should be seen as an effective alternative. Currently, divorcing couples who have at least one child below the age of 21 are required to undergo mandatory counselling and mediation at the Child Focused Resolution Centre, run by the Family Justice Courts, as part of divorce proceedings.
During mediation sessions, a mediator trained in the field of family law acts as a neutral third party to bridge communications between the estranged couple. The mediator also helps in working out mutually acceptable solutions to the issues faced. These mandatory sessions are free. On average, couples attend one to six sessions, depending on the complexity of the case.
This saves time and costs, while allowing both parties to better understand each other and negotiate arrangements that are in their child’s best interests. Some of the important arrangements to be made include deciding who will have custody of the child, as well as who would have care and control over the child. According to a Family Justice Courts spokesman, about 4 in 5 couples agreed on key parenting decisions following the sessions they attended. Nonetheless, it should be noted that not all mediation efforts work out successfully, and those that do not eventually end up as cases fought in court.
3. Post-divorce: Continue to seek out support groups and programmes
Perhaps the real challenge of a divorce begins after it has been finalised. A child’s realisation that he/she no longer has a complete family may hit him/her hard, and this would have a heavy emotional toll on everyday life. Hence it is vital that parents look out for support programmes that would aid their child in coping with the adjustments and managing their emotions.
Divorce Support Specialist Agencies under the Ministry of Social and Family Development run a variety of programmes, ranging from supervised visitation schemes to peer support groups for children of divorced parents. Most of these programmes are offered free of charge. Some of these programmes are catered to the parents as well, providing guidance on how they can better address the emotional struggles of their child. Take the initiative in signing up for some of these programmes.
If you have been granted care and control over your child, it is crucial you continually grant access to your ex-partner. This is because support from both parents are vital to the child’s emotional well-being. If necessary, attend counselling sessions with your ex-partner to work out a practical arrangement so that the child will have consistent interaction with both parents.
4. Most importantly, maintain regular communication with your child
At the end of the day, children of divorced parents are no different from those of complete families – they require much love and support from their parents. Even if a divorce is unavoidable, continually give the child assurance that he/she is still loved and cherished. As far as possible, create and maintain routine in the child’s life to prevent the child from feeling overwhelmed during such times of turbulence. For example, provide fixed, regular timings for your ex-partner to meet the child. Remain positively involved in the child’s life by keeping in close contact and providing support whenever necessary.
1 Statistic highlighted in Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon’s keynote address at the Conference on At-Risk Youth 2015: Achieving, Connecting and Thriving. Obtained from http://www.supremecourt.gov.sg/Data/Editor/Documents/Achieving_Connecting_and_Thriving_031115.pdf. Accessed 29 June, 2016.
Photo Reference: Thomas Leuthard