We often talk about children being damaged by divorce and there are many studies which suggest that children from a broken home are worse off in one way or another, whether they perform worse at school, have relationship issues of their own later in life or are more likely to get in trouble with the police. The latest one I saw last week is that children whose parents divorce or separate before they are five are more likely to be problem drinkers, so says think tank Demos. However, is it really the divorce (or separation) or the behaviour of the parents that is the factor that has the real influence? I think the majority of people would agree that the ideal environment in which to bring up children is a family home with two loving parents committed to each other – whether married or not. However, things don't always go smoothly. Parents do split up. What is important then is how parents behave to each other and the children and that they maintain a high level of parenting. Not all children from separated parents turn out to have problems in the same way that not all those whose parents stay together turn out to be without issues. It is the level of parenting that has the biggest effect. As any parent will tell you though, parenting is not easy and there is no guide book. Legally, when a couple divorce, the law is focused on the rights of the children, rather than those of the parents. It is designed to protect the best interests of children making a base assumption that every child has the right to a relationship with both parents. Parenting plans, as advocated in a Government review of family law, which set out how each party will behave and how they will deal with access and residence, are not a bad way of approaching the subject but could cause friction at the time they are drawn up. As a simple guide, just encouraging parents to try and keep calm during the divorce process and remember that the children come first is very important, and can help avoid some unnecessary stress. In a bid to pull together some simple advice like this and all the legal bits, Woolley & Co has produced a new free booklet entitled Parenthood and the law: the facts. It covers issues like parental responsibility, children's rights, the rights of unmarried fathers and the role of grandparents. The intention is not only to make this available free to all of our clients who have children, but also supply copies to Citizens Advice Bureaux and doctor's surgeries for people to browse or take with them. It can also be viewed as an e-brochure on our website or a hard copy can be requested by calling 0800 321 3832. The brochure is not heavily branded as the purpose is not to promote the firm but to try and share advice. If you can help me spread the word I would be grateful, and maybe we can help ensure that their parents breaking up doesn't set in stone potentially damaging behaviour patterns that affect a child for the rest of their life. Andrew Woolley Family solicitor
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