Protecting children from toxic divorces

 

The recent ITV documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy gave unprecedented insight into the effects that HRH The Prince of Wales – Charles – and Lady Diana Spencer’s divorce had on their children, Prince William, now the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, born two years his younger in 1984.

When their parents divorced, the two princes were aged 14 and 11 respectively – the divorce was finalised on August 28th 1996, falling in the gap between the princes’ June 21st and September 15th birthdays – and the high-profile and acrimonious separation took its toll on the adolescent boys.

Speaking in the documentary, Prince Harry said: “We never saw our mother enough or we never saw our father enough … There was a lot of travelling and a lot of fights on the back seat with my brother, which I would win.

“There was all that to contend with. I don’t pretend we’re the only people to have to deal with that, but it was an interesting way of growing up.”

Of course the legacy of the divorce came to a head the following year with their mother’s death in Paris, almost exactly a year after her separation from Charles, on August 31st 1997, highlighting the importance of protecting dependants throughout the divorce process, rather than assuming there will be time to ‘make it up to them’ later.

Twenty years later, family mediation plays an ever-growing role in divorce proceedings, and coincidentally was given greater prominence with the introduction of the Family Law Act 1996, which set out principles including the welfare of children during divorce, and specific directions with respect to mediation.

Much more recently, the Children and Families Act 2014 reinforced the need for individuals to seek information about mediation before making certain applications to the family court, including in cases involving children.

Regardless of the legislation, there are powerful and persuasive arguments in favour of mediation in all divorces, and especially in those that are not amicable, or where the welfare and happiness of children are at risk.

Mediation specifically provides a go-between so that in toxic divorces, communication between the two parties does not break down; it is also a way to ensure that the interests of all parties, including any dependants, are equally expressed, so that no one individual has the ‘loudest voice’.

It’s not just about protecting the children, either. By focusing on objectively finding the most mutually beneficial resolution to the separation that best reflects the desires of the parties involved, mediation moves things forwards without becoming bogged down in emotional conflict.

Divorce is not a stress-free process by any means, but an independent voice in the form of a professionally qualified and experienced mediator can help to keep things in perspective and keep the focus on the aspects of the separation where an agreement can realistically be reached.

This includes thorny issues like where the children will be based and contact arrangements for separating couples who are keen to both remain regular parents to their children, without leaving them feeling ‘pulled apart’ like the princes describe in this documentary.

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