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Divorcing couples regret the impact on children but don’t tend to seek help, survey finds

Survey highlights the need for relationship education, says Sir Paul Coleridge

Divorced couples significantly regret the impact that their split had on their children but tend not to seek help with their relationship, according to a survey conducted by Seddons in conjunction with The Marriage Foundation.

One-third of divorced or separated couples state that their biggest regret about splitting up was the impact it had on their children. However, the survey results point toward a discrepancy between a couple's perceived impact of their split on the children and the wide body of scientific and clinical evidence which chronicles such impact. Nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of respondents reported no perceived negative impact on their children whatsoever. Furthermore, most indicated that both their relationship with their child (74 per cent) and their children's personal relationships (70 per cent) had not been affected.

This is despite significant proportions of those with children reporting that it made their child's emotional state (32 per cent), school performance (22 per cent) and general behaviour deteriorate (17 per cent). Only a very small number (8 per cent) of respondents with children report that they were more emotional and affectionate as a result.

Other biggest regrets cited were the financial consequences (24 per cent) and the way the divorce was conducted (21 per cent). Overall, a majority of respondents (61 per cent) did not regret marrying or cohabitating, despite it ending in a divorce or separation.

The survey also identified that the vast majority of couples (79 per cent) failed to get any counselling when the relationship was in difficulty, with large proportions having decided that it was "too late" (38 per cent) or that they "never thought about it" (26 per cent).

The findings also suggest that even fewer couples seek preventive help, with nearly 84 per cent not attending a marriage preparation or relationship education course during the early stages of their relationship. Among the reasons cited include the fact that they "never thought about it" (44 per cent) and that they "didn't know there were such courses" (37 per cent).
However, if given the chance to change the way in which they separated, some 24 per cent indicated that they would increase communication with their partner.

Commenting on the research, Deborah Jeff, Head of Family at Seddons, said:

"The findings ... reinforce the essential role that education and communication play in both making a marriage work and bringing it to an end in the least damaging way. It is staggering how few couples seek help through the process, either before entering into marriage or when it starts to break down. The resources exist to help people at all stages of a relationship, and utilising them would address many of the issues and regrets unearthed by the research."

Sir Paul Coleridge, Founder and Chairman of The Marriage Foundation, added:

"This is really important and persuasive research. It highlights the dangerous level of ignorance amongst those who embark on separation and divorce about the potential impact on their children, despite the evidence and scale of the problem nationally.

"But just as important is the level of ignorance about the availability of relationship education and counselling courses to help couples before the relationship has hit crisis level and when it has. If we are to do anything about confronting this huge problem in a constructive and meaningful way, the benefit of relationship education, before and during marriage, needs to be both appreciated and become the norm not the rare exception."

The research was conducted by leading market research group OnePoll and surveyed 867 individuals who had gone through a divorce or separation, nearly 63 per cent of whom were women. The survey was conducted in mid-November 2013.

The findings can be viewed here.