Last Friday, Vanessa Lloyd Platt was interviewed on Vanessa Feltz’s show discussing the impact of amicable divorce on children.
Asked for her opinion on a study which suggested that amicable separation and acrimonious divorce had a similar impact on children, Vanessa said “It’s wrong. I have no doubt, having had years of experience, that if couples war in front of children, it does affect them far more than if couples try to act in an amicable, reasonable and sensible fashion.”Listen to Vanessa’s interview here (Interview is between 2:03:04- 2:16:40)
Read the text of the interview below:
BBC Divorce Interview – Vanessa Feltz & Vanessa Lloyd Platt:
Vanessa Feltz, BBC– Amicable divorce is just as damaging for children as horrible, corrosive, unamicable divorce. Why? Because the findings are that it’s the impact of the split on youngsters that’s the thing, not whether their parents pretend to be nice to each other, whether they’re seeing the grandparents on both sides, whether mum and dad can actually stand in the same room at Christmas day or not. It’s not that, it’s the split that has the impact and it says here – the findings undermine a government back consensus that the harm caused to children by separating parents can be limited if the couple remain friends. So, it’s the most disturbing finding, it’s not what we expected, it’s certainly not what we want it to say but is it true? Let us talk to the renowned divorce lawyer – Vanessa Lloyd Platt. Vanessa, good morning to you.
Vanessa Lloyd Platt – Good morning, lovely to talk to you.
…And thanks for joining us. I mean this flies against and in the face of all that we’ve been told.
Absolutely and I have to say I think that it’s a totally irresponsible survey that was done, as I understand it was commissioned in America. Now, I spoke to some of my American friends and judges and lawyers over there and asked their reaction to it because I felt it was so irresponsible, because we have spent all of our time, and certainly I have for 34 years, encouraging people to act amicably towards each other in front of the children, so that the children don’t suffer more. The Tavistock which is the best and world renowned clinic for dealing with these issues, recommends exactly the same and so do all therapists. And, what this is, I have no doubt is a political view that’s come over from America because in America, like here, the courts are running out of time and space to deal with matters and they’re trying to basically frighten couples to death into not divorcing at all because of this. They haven’t got the time to deal with the cases anymore, they haven’t got the money to deal with the cases in the courts anymore. As they are finding here as well. So what do they do? Let’s frighten people into not divorcing at all, by suggesting that the impact of the split is going to forever impact on children whatever you do. I think it’s wrong and I have no doubt having had the experience for many years that if couples war in front of children, it does affect them far more than if couples try to act in an amicable, reasonable and sensible fashion.
See the thing that worries me about this Vanessa is that we will contrive to create little sort of adages and homilies that seem as if they’re true because they suit us. For example, the phrase ‘quality time’. You remember ‘quality time’ when that was invented, and that was invented to make working mothers and fathers who couldn’t do anything about it and had no choice anyway feel better about what they were doing. And, the idea was okay your only seeing your child for 20 minutes a day or 40 minutes a day , an hour and a half a day out of 24hours – but hey if it’s quality time that’s what counts. Now, whoever invented it was maybe some advertising genius but I think it’s one of those phrases that has to be called in to question because you just wonder how can you substantiate it, how can it be possibly true, you know the child’s tired, you’re tired, there’s dinner to be got, there’s ironing to be done and at the same time homework to be done. How can it possibly be quality time? See you have to question these things and one of the other adages is an amicable divorce will somehow allow the children to survive a rift in their lives. Which means instead of having two parents under the same roof – you haven’t, instead of having the stability of a mum and dad together in a normal way that you can take for granted – you haven’t. You may well be having shared parenting so that you’re in one house on a Monday to Wednesday, another house on the Thursday to Saturday. There are different individuals involved, new girlfriends, new boyfriends, children from previous relationships but the comforting phrase is oh well if it’s an amicable divorce this will be okay.
It may be something we want to believe but it’s not true.
No, it may be the panacea that some people want to hear, so if someone has run off with someone’s wife or whatever, but, there is no doubt, that divorce can be upsetting, harmful and for some people it can stay with them forever. There is no doubt about it. But there is also this tendency I’m afraid in the media to terrify people in to believing that if they are facing an experience that they can do nothing about, so if your partner has run off with someone or has said I don’t want to be with you anymore – what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to sit there listening to every single item in the media or in the paper’s saying ‘oh they are doomed, they’re going to be disturbed, they’re not going to do well in school’ and it is destructively stupid. And, the reality is that if you as parents do take the view that you explained to the children together, that we still love you but we just can’t live together. There are ways you can minimise it and not every child of a divorce goes on to be a hopeless failure and that is an absolute lie. So, what we have to do is have a balance between people using things as an excuse and people acting in a reasonable way. What concerned me about this report is that I’ve already had clients that have phoned me up and said ‘well, you know, you told me not to row with him – I’m going to row with him now because it’s not going to make any difference to the children’. I mean this is how people interpret it and so it will mean more work for the lawyers, more court hearings, it’s irresponsible. I think what the report was trying to say in a nutshell that the impact of the split does upset children regardless, but, I do not agree with the findings I really don’t and nor too do most of the lawyers I spoken to in America.
It’s interesting because Harry Benton of the Marriage foundation says this and he may have a point when you think about it, the study fully exposes the mismatch between parents and children’s perceptions, getting on well may make the parents feel better about the split but it does little for the children, to them it makes no sense at all if the parents get on well yet won’t live together. The good divorce he says is a myth. Imagine your 5 years old and your parents are acting as if they like each other in front of you and dad does come in for a cup of tea and he is allowed to sit in the living room and help you with your homework and your 5 and then he gets up and goes and his new girlfriends waiting outside in the car to drive him away.
What is better that they scream at each other? They fight with each other? They say they hate each other? This is part of a child. What is been so destructive and most of the studies have found this, if your parents say we hate you, you are evil, you are bad and half of that parent is in them they start to feel they are bad and they’re evil and they’re worthless so yet you have to accept that fighting overtly an in a destructive way in front of each other affects a child far more and anyone who suggests that that isn’t so is being naïve in the extremes.
Do you think though that maybe at the heart of this report is a very responsible message which is do not kid yourself that your children will be unaffected by your divorce, do not persuade yourself that if somehow you can do it ‘the sophisticated way’, you know you can be very adult and grown up about it and nobody argues with anybody and all of this kind of thing, that your child will be fine because your child will not be fine. Doesn’t mean your child will grow up to be a vandal or you know, never get a job or live a life of total dissolute wretchedness, not that but your child will not and cannot possibly be unaffected by it. So, if you’re entering into this divorce for frivolous reasons, if you haven’t really thought it through, if you’re bored, if you think the grass is greener, old cow, new cow, whatever it is, have a think about it because don’t just waltz into it thinking your kids will be fine.
Well that’s all very well but most of the people that you’re talking about are the kind of people who are so selfish they wouldn’t care less anyway and the responsible people are the ones that are going to be devastated by this, the one’s that might have stayed in a marriage, who have been in a domestic violence or abusive situation and have failed to come out of it for years because of their overriding fear instilled sometimes by the media that their children will be irreparably harmed. So, as a divorce lawyer, you have to balance. I agree with you to a certain extent, if you are directing those remarks at responsible people. Regrettably, there are some people who are so selfish they have never given a thought to the effect on the children ever and never will and all this will do is go into the heart of people who are responsible, who are frightened, who care very much and who will be irreparably harmed by this report alone.
So, effectively if we do what we usually do do when we hear something were not used to and don’t like the sound of and we just forget this and dismiss it, you think that will be the right thing to do?
I think we have to put it in its place which is, children can be harmed by divorce but if you want to minimise it and there’s no alternative and you have thought it through, then fine, you can minimise the impact and your children will go on to have very happy, steady, wonderful lives and good relationships themselves. You cannot say every child of a divorce will never have a proper relationship, which is what some of these reports are trying to instil in the media, it is nonsense. What you have to do is aim it at people we’d want to target – the selfish people but will they listen? So how do you target a selfish person that doesn’t care anyway?
One of the refrains you often hear Vanessa, is people saying, ‘I’m getting Divorced, I am heartbroken because my own parents were divorced and I was determined this would never happen to me’. You hear that a lot don’t you and when you do you almost feel very sorry for the person saying it because you think gosh, you know, you almost felt as though you had a kind of congenital pre disposition to get divorced and that’s why you’ve been trying so terribly hard not to do it because you didn’t want to be predictable and be the child of a divorce family getting divorced.
That’s exactly the point I’m making and it is those people that perhaps struggle so much because they don’t want their children to feel as they might’ve felt. Particularly the children where the parents have argued until they were blue in the face and they were so dis-stressed, so that they will run up to their fathers saying please stop shouting at mum, please don’t hit mum, please don’t do that and so for them they have been at pains to do anything to keep their own relationship together even when it is hopeless.
They say in the papers that this is the very, very busy time for divorce laywers because people come back from summer holidays and realise that the marriage isn’t right, is that true?
That is absolutely true, regrettably, well for a divorce lawyer it’s wonderful, as a human being, I have never known it so busy as it is now.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I know exactly why it is. When there has been unrest around the world, we always see more divorce and the reason for it is people become unnerved, they become frightened and it spurs them on to do things because they think well if I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it? Things can happen, it’s a very frightening time, I just want away from them, I want to live a life while I’ve still got one and that is the feeling that people have. People are very afraid at the moment, they’re afraid because there is so much going on. There seems to be problems about finances that we keep hearing, ‘Oh it’s only a matter of time before the financial crisis comes back’. There’s unrest, you know David Cameron making the announcements, ‘Oh were in danger of something big happening here’. People get so frightened and when they do, you would think, oh shouldn’t people be more cohesive.’
That’s what I was going to say, you think people would want to stick together, want security, you know cleave under your wife and husband and family.
No, that is not what actually happens. What actually happens is people then think I just want to escape. I want to do something different, I’m so frightened, I can’t cope with this anymore and psychologists and therapists at the moment have never been so busy with people who are having disputes. You look around, there’s more road rage, there’s more fighting because people are afraid and that has definitely impacted on the number of people we are seeing and the disputes they’re having.
I’m so glad I asked that question, I didn’t think for a moment you were going to say that.
What a fascinating conversation, thank you so much for talking to us Vanessa Lloyd Platt, the divorce lawyer and the question is this do you agree with her? Do you think it’s irresponsible to release the results of this American study which says, it doesn’t matter if your divorce is amicable or not. What matters to the child is the split, not the terms that the parents are on. So, therefore you cannot comfort yourself by saying you know well we’ve managed an amicable divorce, it’s had very little effect on the children. It makes the parents feel better but not the children, the point is that the parents are not still together not that they’re still speaking. Amicable divorce doesn’t save your children the misery and wretchedness of divorce. Vanessa Lloyd Platt says it’s not true and it’s not responsible. What do you [the listener] think?