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Nigel Hastilow: Getting a divorce shouldn’t be child’s play

By Nigel Hastilow | Nigel Hastilow | Published:

Changes are being made that will make it easier for unhappy couples to divorce – but simplifying separation could just make children’s lives worse.

The plans were introduced by the Government this week

It’s easy to get divorced. Just fall out with your spouse, find an expensive lawyer, fill in a few forms and wrangle over money. (Please note: This is not an extended metaphor for Brexit).

Oh and you may need to argue about custody of the kids, too, explain to them what’s going on, why mummy has moved in with some strange man and why daddy is having to sell the house.

And when the children are confused, frightened and burst into tears for no apparent reason, you may need to soothe their concerns and offer a bit of reassurance.

It won’t be the same for them, of course. The secure, stable household they were growing up in will have disappeared.

Unhappy

They may end up with two bedrooms, two households, two strangers (a step-mother and a step-father) and no idea what’s really going on.

But not to worry, mummy and daddy are much happier now they are not together so, obviously, the children don’t have to live in an unhappy household any more.

They don’t have to listen to arguments, endure sulks or violence or mental intimidation so divorce has to be much better for them too, right?

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No, not right. Having witnessed the recent divorce – concluded this very week – of a close family member with one three-year-old son to care for, it’s obvious that, however desirable for the parents, it’s hideously unsettling for any children involved.

It’s not just the initial separation, it’s the long, drawn-out negotiations, the bitterness, anger and resentment the whole thing causes.

Is it any wonder a little three-year-old gets distraught? My own experiences of divorce are, admittedly, second-hand.

The one time I ever had tickets for an England-Wales rugby match in Cardiff, I didn’t get to the game because a friend’s wife chose that day to walk out on him.

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I had to be there to keep the peace as she packed her things, said goodbye to her sons and left for another man.

The two boys are now both grown up but, in all the years since their mother walked out not just on their father but on them, they’ve never been invited to visit her new home or meet her second husband.

Scarred

There is no doubt in my mind these two young men have been badly scarred by the experience.

It baffles me how some parents can be so selfish when it comes to abandoning their children or subjecting them to the pain and suffering that undoubtedly blights their lives following a divorce.

Of course, sometimes divorce is vital, necessary, the only way to end the misery of a terrible union.

And the impact on children is unfortunate collateral damage. It may well be that staying together ‘for the sake of the children’ doesn’t work.

As the poet Philip Larkin said more bluntly, ‘they mess you up, your mum and dad’, so the offspring of an unhappy marriage are probably blighted either way.

But, given how easy it is for couples to divorce, it seems like the final nail in the coffin for marriage when the Government announces plans to make it even easier than it already is.

Judges, lawyers and politicians all think it’s a good idea to introduce no-blame divorces because, apparently, this will reduce the level of wrangling between separating couples. Instead of asking both parties to agree on a divorce, it will in future be available if only one of them wants out. And they won’t have to go through the ritual of setting out exactly how and why the other has behaved so unreasonably. This all sounds sensible and civilised.

Joanne Edwards, a family lawyer, claims: “By making divorce a more neutral process, it protects the 200,000 children of the 100,000 couples who go through divorce in England and Wales each year from the fallout of divorce.”

Nonsense

This is utter nonsense. It doesn’t do anything to protect the children from the hideous reality of divorce. It may make the process even quicker and reduce, to a small extent, how much quarrelling is involved.

But it won’t do anything to protect the children from the disorientating, damaging impact of such a major upheaval in their previously-secure little world. Nor will it prevent some of them from blaming themselves for the parting. Nor will it stop them from feeling abandoned and bereft by one, if not both, of their parents.

Some divorces seem amicable. But even with the kind of ‘conscious uncoupling’ notoriously announced by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, it’s hard to believe the children aren’t traumatised.

Divorce is a great sadness for everyone involved. It is sometimes a necessary evil, of course, and there is absolutely no point in persisting with a marriage which has expired.

We all make mistakes and deserve second chances.

But making it even easier to split up than it is already seems guaranteed to make children’s lives even more unhappy.

Getting a divorce shouldn’t be child’s play.

A lost cause

The Conservative Party has sent out an email warning that 5,000 of their councillors are up for re-election on May 2 and if they don’t get in, Labour will impose huge council tax rises.

Do they seriously think many people will bother to vote Conservative at a time when the party is in meltdown?

Many people are so utterly disillusioned with the entire political process they won’t bother to vote at all in the local elections. Even if some of us do reluctantly drag ourselves to the polling station, I don’t fancy the chances for swathes of Conservative councillors. None of it is their fault, of course, though they will be the first to pay the price. But not the last.

Busy doing nothing

It’s always good to see Government Ministers giving the appearance of taking action over one of society’s great ills. But their plans to force social media giants to take responsibility for the dangerous stuff they publish every day does not require new laws or censorship.

These companies should simply be prosecuted under existing legislation covering issues like libel, obscene publications and racism.

The companies deny they are publishers in the traditional sense but they are responsible for the distribution of obscene and depraved material.

In the past, the police would raid bookshops which stocked ‘dirty magazines’ – there is no reason they can’t do the same with the likes of Facebook and Instagram now, shut them down and prosecute the directors.

Criminal behaviour

The West Midlands is supposedly the country’s ‘cannabis capital’.

It is odd for West Midlands chief constable ‘Dave’ Thompson to claim it would ruin young people’s ‘life chances’ if they were arrested for using drugs. Does he not realise using drugs will ruin their ‘life chances’ anyway?

Meanwhile a Police Federation shop steward says he’d rather attend a crime affecting an old person than arrest an 18-year-old for drug offences.

Doesn’t he realise the old person was almost certainly attacked by someone on drugs?

Nigel Hastilow

By Nigel Hastilow

Express & Star columnist

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