29th January 2019

University College of London’s Institute of Education recently published the first British study of its kind into the impact of divorce on child mental health.

The analysis of 6,245 children found that children between the ages of 7 and 14 were 16% more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural difficulties as a result of their parents separating than those parents who stay together. These emotional problems were similarly common in both boys and girls of this age, however behavioural problems were observed mostly in boys.

The study showed that children aged 3 and under were no more likely to develop emotional or behavioural issues than children whose parents remain together. Researchers suggest a possible explanation for these results is children who are older are likely to have a better understanding and are “more sensitive to relationship dynamics at this age”.

Divorce petitions in England rest on fault based criteria and the research by the University College of London comes at a time where Government are under pressure to introduce ‘no-fault divorce’ in order to streamline the often lengthy and confrontational process of divorce. The so called ‘blame game’ of fault based divorce causes separating parents to divert their attention away from the needs of their children when making child arrangements.

Currently the only ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and to succeed on this ground, the petitioner must satisfy to the court that the marriage has broken down irretrievably on one or more of five facts. Three of the facts are ‘fault based’ and are behaviour, adultery and desertion. The remaining two facts are based on periods of separation – two years if both parties consent and five years without consent.

All of these routes to divorce can place additional stress and animosity on divorcing couples at an already stressful time and can have a detrimental impact on the outcome for themselves and their children.

Calls for ‘no fault divorce’ have been considered previously, however, on this occasion, the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper in September 2018; Reform of the legal requirements for divorce. The Government propose to remove the need to find fault and also the ability to contest/defend a divorce.

The proposals could see a reduction in unnecessary animosity caused by the ‘fault’ element and the subsequent impact this has on the children involved. At present, the current law remains in place.

If you are experiencing a breakdown in your relationship and require legal advice please contact us to make an appointment – we offer appointments at our Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland offices.

Blog by Jasmine Crammond, Family Law Paralegal based in Middlesbrough