The Independent

Children in court divorce disputes 'worse off'

By Lorna Duckworth, Social Affairs Correspondent
The Independent
30 October 2002

Disputes between divorcing parents over contact with the children are usually exacerbated when solicitors go to court, research shows today. The study, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says applications for court orders, when judges specify who sees the children and when, "fuel conflict rather than resolve it".

Money would be better spent on counselling services, trying to improve relations between parents and children and help them find solutions, rather than trying to impose solutions through the courts, the study says.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia interviewed parents and children from 61 families about their separation or divorce.

Parents from 27 families, where the child-contact arrangements were working and there was a strong element of commitment among the adults, all came to voluntary agreements without legal intervention. The children from these families reported largely positive experiences, although some found it hard when one parent moved in with a new partner.

But parents from 25 families were in dispute over contact. In some cases, the warring adults refused to communicate and caused distress to their children by using them as go-betweens, the study says.

Of those who sought help through the legal system, none reported a positive outcome, and the authors conclude that lawyers, or judges, are rarely able to improve matters.

Liz Trinder, co-author of the study, said there was a role for the courts in resolving some contact problems, such as in cases of domestic violence or child abuse. She called for greater investment in counselling services, adding: "Mostly, disputes are not really about contact. They are about issues between parents about the ending of their relationship."

2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd