Reporter 449, 20 March 2000
Children of divorced or separated couples often find their own ways of expressing the need to be treated as individuals and family members, rather than as problems to be managed for the convenience of their parents, a new study by the University’s Centre for Research on Family, Kinship and Childhood has found.
Nine-year-old Rosie, one of 65 children interviewed as part of the ESRC research project said there was one change she would like to make: "For there to be eight days in the week. That’s the only thing... four days with both people."
Professor Carol Smart, Dr Amanda Wade and Dr Bren Neale were looking into what post-divorce life was like for children when both parents tried to share childcare.
The Children Act encourages shared parenting by divorced partners but limited research has been done into how this feels from the child’s point of view and whether being shared between two households - co-parenting - makes life more or less of a challenge.
Sociologists are increasingly focusing on the child as an active participant in the family - not a passive victim of the divorce process but a person whose wishes and feelings should be taken into account by adults, including mediators, welfare officers and lawyers.
The Leeds team spoke to children aged four to 17 and from a wide range of social backgrounds. Rosie’s poignant remark illustrated a common preoccupation among the children - a desire to be fair to both parents and to keep both in their lives; they disliked being forced to choose between one parent and the other.
The majority got used to alternating between parental homes, some even finding it preferable to living in one household. But as they grew older, practical and emotional problems arose for some, including disruption of schoolwork or one household being nicer to live in than the other.
11-year-old Jake spoke for many interviewees: "The people who are involved should get to decide, not by themselves, but by helping each other to reach some kind of agreement as to what would be best."
Professor Smart and colleagues concluded that there are reasons to be optimistic about how children respond to family life after divorce, particularly if they can participate in decisions about their lives.
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