Belfast Telegraph

Divorce hurts children? So do the parents who stay together and fight

By Jane Graham

Research published this week on the impact of divorce on children made for some stark reading. According to the survey by an association of family lawyers, kids who go through a divorce are more likely to (take a breath) - take drugs, self-harm, mess up their exams, play truant and develop an eating disorder.

The report made for scary finger-pointing headlines across the UK. Online coverage of the survey gave undivorced or childless below-the-line commentators free rein to get stuck in to "selfish", "cruel" divorced parents; one chap labelled them practitioners of "legal child abuse". Most divorced parents already carry their guilt around their neck like a little, lightly strangling, knapsack. After reading this research, they're now more likely to take drugs, self-harm, mess up their work and develop an eating disorder.

I'm not sure what purpose this slender (500 children is not a huge survey base) study was intended to serve. It will certainly make thousands of people feel worse than they already do, but, as most are aware of what specific impact their situation has had on their kids, and work as hard as they can to make things better, how does this repeated reminder of issues we all knew about anyway help? The report doesn't come with any new theories about how families can minimise the likelihood of negative outcomes. And it doesn't address numerous variables, without which it seems to me almost pointless. Other than as an attack weapon.

For instance, what are the statistics regarding children who live with miserably together parents, either in a melancholy, frustrated, loveless silence or an atmosphere of constant tension, with regular blow-outs of teeming rage? What are the stats on kids who see one parent physically attack and/or verbally abuse the other husk of a parent every day? How many undivorced people spend their last few decades half-alive, thinking of the things they might have seen and felt if they'd been bold enough to be honest, and get out of the quiet, tired, unhappy home they've spent most of their life sharing with an equally hollowed-out ex-lover?

But perhaps most crucially of all, we don't know how much of the negative impact divorce has on children has to do with the battle-mode our adversarial divorce laws force upon splitting couples. Parents seeking the simplest pathway to divorce - many of whom have already spent years attempting to patch up a dead relationship - are often advised that the route with least resistance involves one party admitting to adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The most common real reason, irreconcilable differences, is not accepted legally as grounds to end a marriage within two years of the asking, so many couples agree that one will shoulder full "blame".

This might work okay at first, but as parents drift further apart, and into new relationships, it can be used to limit the contact the self-confessed villain of the piece has with their child. What do the stats say about how many of those kids go off the rails precisely then, when things suddenly become sour and angry and in some cases, vengeful?

Perhaps we should conclude, based on this survey and the ones from times past it echoes, that the best thing parents can do for their children is to never get married at all. We don't have comparable information on children of separated parents who never wed; it's gotta be worth a try. Something's not working about the way we do it now, and if it's errant, selfish parents, let's take away the gift of marriage from them completely. Well, what else can we do?

I'm on this Paisley twin's track ...

I haven't followed the career of Ian Paisley Jnr's twin Kyle closely, but I was impressed this week when he pulled no punches in answer to Gregory Campbell's "comedy" mocking of the Irish language, which Kyle said "shamed unionism". (He also previously criticised Peter Robinson for Robinson's "condescending" comments about trusting a Muslim to go to the shops for him.)

Even if it's true that Kyle's passion is heightened by the DUP/Paisley feud, with his suggestion that Campbell's hilarious "curry my yoghurt" quip reveals a man "completely dismissive of other people's ideology and wishes and aspirations", he's probably onto something.

Our MLAs aren't full of surprises 

The most depressing thing about the MLAs' expenses scandal, as revealed in BBC NI's excellent Spotlight, is how its revelation of the Wild West county of Stormont's apparently unregulated cash system failed to rouse the natives. There is so little faith in the integrity of MLAs, such ennui in the face of stories of dealings so dodgy they'd make headlines round the world if they occurred in Westminster, it seems unlikely much will change while this generation are still in power.

The programme made claims which painted a picture half evocative of Al Capone, half Father Ted, and most of the folk I know simply laughed and shrugged. Ho hum.

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