Poll by Resolution also finds nearly a third would have liked if divorcing parents did not criticise each other in front of them
The poll found that 82% of those aged 14 to 22 who have endured family breakups would prefer their parents to part if they are unhappy. They said it was ultimately better that their parents had divorced, with one of those surveyed adding that children “will often realise, later on, that it was for the best”.
Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, another said: “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms.”
The survey, released before the latest annual divorce figures from the Office of National Statistics, show that children want greater involvement in decisions made during the divorce process. More than 60% of those polled felt their parents had not ensured they were part of the decision-making process in their separation or divorce.
Half of young people indicated they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live. An overwhelming majority – 88% – agreed it was important to make sure children do not feel like they have to choose between parents
Feelings of confusion and guilt are commonplace. About half admitted not understanding what was happening during their parents’ separation or divorce, while 19% agreed that they sometimes felt like it was their fault.
Resolution’s research suggested that many parents handle their separations well: 50% of young people agreed that their parents put their needs first.
In the survey, carried out by ComRes, 514 young people aged 14-22 with experience of parental divorce or separation from a long-term cohabiting relationship were interviewed.
The findings are released before the parliamentary launch of an online advice guide developed by Resolution for divorcing parents to help manage relationships with their children and with each other.
When asked what they would most like to have changed about a divorce, 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to criticise each other in front of them; 30% said they would have liked their parents to understand what it felt like to be in the middle of the process.
The research also suggested that young people’s relationships with their mother and wider family members are likely to stay the same or improve after divorce whereas their relationship with their father is likely to worsen.
The survey results come before the publication on Monday of the latest available annual divorce statistics, for 2013, by the ONS.
The number of divorces in England and Wales declined consistently between 2003 and 2009, reflecting the overall fall in the number of marriages. Since then it has fluctuated. In 2012 there were 118,140 divorces – an increase of 0.5% over the previous year.
Jo Edwards, Resolution’s chair, said: “Despite the common myth that it’s better to stay together for the sake of the kids, most children would rather their parents divorce than remain in an unhappy relationship.
“Being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself. This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process, and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce.
“We should be supporting parents to choose an out of court divorce method, such as mediation or collaborative practice. This will help parents to maintain control over the divorce and ensure their children’s needs are, and remain, the central focus.”
Denise Knowles, a counsellor with the relationship support group Relate, said: “Evidence suggests that it’s parental conflict which has the most damaging effect on children and we see this played out in the counselling room every day. Children usually find their parents’ separation extremely upsetting but as this research demonstrates, eventually many come to terms with the situation and adjust to changes in family life.”
Sue Atkins, a parenting expert and author, said: “Children want to feel involved and empowered with relevant information about their parents’ divorce and what it means for them. They also want to see their parents behaving responsibly, such as to not argue in front of them.
“That so many children report their relationships with family members remain unchanged after a divorce shows the value in parents seeking advice to support them to find positive solutions to their disputes.”
Bob Greig, the founder of the single fathers support organisation Only Dads, pointed out that nearly half of children reported that their relationship with their father worsened after divorce. “Although not surprising, [it] is always heartbreaking to hear. It doesn’t need to be like this,” he said.
“The reasons are well known. Some dads walk away. Other dads and their children are prevented from having a meaningful relationship because mum, for whatever reason, doesn’t encourage or even allow one to flourish. Other dads struggle with confidence and health issues post-divorce – these reasons are not perhaps not so well known.”
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