Children's Mental Health Week takes place from 6th to 12th February 2023 and shines a spotlight on the stresses and anxieties facing children today. In 2023, children are contending with bullying, anxiety about returning to normal life after Covid-19, concerns about body image and social media, to name but a few. The impact on children is something that is at the forefront of the minds of many parents during separation or divorce.

The Statistics

Statistics in the UK show that at least 50% of couples undergoing divorce have one child under the age of 16. Twenty percent of those children are under the age of 5.

The Effects of Separation on Children's Mental Health

There can be a degree of uncertainty when parties initially separate. Children may be keen to know where they will be living and who with, whether their schooling will be impacted and how often they might see their friends. Parents may not be able to provide answers to all of those queries, so it is important that children's expectations are well managed.

Dispute Resolution

Sometimes it is necessary to raise court proceedings on separation; however, it is always best to explore whether a separation can be handled without recourse to the courts in the first instance. This can reduce stress and expense for all concerned.

Parties can engage in "traditional negotiation". This often involves communication going back and forth between lawyers, but may also include joint meetings. This form of negotiation allows both parties to maintain a degree of control (without leaving decisions to be made by a third party). In any negotiation it is useful to try to find common ground. For parents, the one thing they can often agree on is that the impact on children should be minimised.

Parties may opt to engage in a mediation process. If communication between parties has deteriorated, then it can be helpful to sit around a table in a neutral venue with a third party to discuss matters frankly. The process is completely confidential and the detail of discussions cannot be referred to in court. This is often a good option for parents, who may be able to generate creative options to best serve the needs of their children. This is also a good forum in which to discuss any concerns parents may have as to how children are dealing with the separation.

The collaborative model of dispute resolution is becoming increasingly popular. Engaging in a collaborative process involves parties (and their respective solicitors) engaging in a series of meetings to explore all matters. As with mediation, this process, used well, can assist in placing the needs of any children front and centre.


If there is some matter that cannot be agreed between the parties, either one of them can apply to the court for an order. The court will only make an order in respect of a child if it is better that an order be made than no order at all. The best interests of the child(ren) are the paramount consideration.

The legislation provides that any child who is capable of forming and expressing a view should be given the opportunity to express it. There are a number of ways in which children's views can be obtained and much will depend on the circumstances of each case. Even in circumstances where the children's views are not ultimately followed, this can assist children in feeling that they have some say.

Regardless of the process parties utilise to resolve matters following separation, helping children to feel valued and listened to can have a positive impact on the whole family moving forward.