Modern Families, Modern Justice

A new report out of Europe authored by the AFCC supports new thinking in regard to children and parental conflict. As most people are aware, children today come from all types of family structures including: intact, traditional, separated, divorced, same sex parents, and intergenerational. Traditional gender roles and caretaking roles of children are challenged more often and shifting daily. Evidence suggests that regardless of family structure the most critical influence on a child’s wellbeing is the relationship that children have with their parents/care taker. Disruptions to these relationships and the conflict within these relationships impact children more greatly than the actual shift in the family structure. Children whose parents/caretakers have low parental conflict enjoy better physical and mental health, better emotional wellbeing, higher academic achievement, and a lower likelihood of engaging in illegal and risky behavior. Children whose parents/caretakers have high conflict experience detrimental impact to their emotional and mental well-being that can last a lifetime. Research suggests that children whose parents separate or divorce. can adjust fairly well to the change in their family, however children who remain in intact families with high parental conflict are twice as likely to have behavioral difficulties. Children, particularly teens, with prolonged exposure to unresolved parental/caretaker conflict experience higher levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, antisocial behavior, and illegal behavior.

What does this mean? Parent who engage in frequent and intense inter-parental conflict put their children’s mental health and long-term life success at risk. As professionals involved in divorce, along with the 2017 comment to Rule 2.1, we have an obligation to have a dialogue with our clients about this. As parents of children involved in divorce, you have an obligation to your children to consider your behavior and its long term effects on your children. It is critical for families and the judiciary to put effort and focus on the quality of the relationships that surround the child post-separation and to consider the impact that the parental conflict has on the child long term.

Credit: St George’s House Consultation in partnership with Relate and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) 2018.