New research from the University College London says that divorce is less painful for children if it happens when they’re younger. Those between the ages of three and seven in their test of 6,000 children were 16% less likely to suffer emotional and behavioural problems than those between seven and fourteen years of age.
Surely it depends on each individual child? I struggle to see how you can turn this into a realistic statistic. It also depends on how the parents deal with the split. From my experience, each child deals with the separation of their parents differently and you have to be very aware of how each one is feeling during this incredibly destabilising process. It doesn’t simply go away when they get to age 14 either.
I really don’t think you can be precise about when the best time is to separate as regards the age of your children. Yes, if your children are younger, they may not be quite so aware of the changes and you may be less financially interdependent, but that doesn’t mean to say it won’t hit them hard at a later stage. Their stability and mental health depends on so many factors along the way.
They also reported that on average, mothers experienced more mental health problems if they separated when the children were older, mainly because of the financial impact of divorce – this is because it generally becomes more severe for a woman the later it happens in the marriage once everything is inextricably linked. This element must have an influence on the older children too and it’s this area that I think we should be looking to improve. We need to find a way to end the gender pay gap, sort out free childcare, give parents longer periods of parental leave and look at how bringing up children can be shared more equally amongst the parents, so that the split is as pain free as possible.
I’m not convinced that any age is the “right” age to get divorced. You just have to have reached the conclusion that you have given it your everything and that by staying together you would be harming your children more than if you separated. They have to feel secure enough to know that the breakdown is nothing to do with them and if you can ensure that they maintain relationships with both parents, then this will help hugely too.