Should you be staying together for the kids? The pros & cons
Many of our clients seeking help with separation or divorce are worried about its impact on their kids. Research, studies, and even anecdotal evidence can make it feel like staying together is best for children.
Yet, for various reasons, separation might be imminent. Sometimes there’s no other option. And sometimes it’s simply the best choice for the family as a whole. And there’s absolutely no reason to add guilt to your complex feelings at this difficult time.
So, let’s dive into staying together for the kids and the pros and cons, exploring how it impacts both parents and children alike. After all, finding the right path forward requires a blend of understanding, empathy, and care.
What are the pros of staying together for the kids?
There are reasons why people often talk about ‘staying together for the kids’. Research suggests that:
- Children raised in married-parent families tend to have better life-outcomes than children raised in another family arrangement.
- Children raised by happily married parents living together in one home tend to have the best health, educational, and social outcomes.
- The emotional and mental wellbeing of kids raised in homes by their happily married parents tends to be better than in alternate living arrangements. They tend to experience less antisocial behaviours at home, with friends, and at school.
- Children who have a stable home environment tend to have a stronger relationship with each parent in that home.
What are the cons of staying together for the kids
It’s important to note that the pros of staying together for the kids rests on the underlying assumption that the family home is stable, loving, and generally conflict free. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Life simply doesn’t work out the way research expects.
But that doesn’t mean you and your co-parent can’t raise wonderful, well-adjusted, happy children when separated. In fact, sometimes separation and divorce can work out to be best for the entire family.
Here are 10 considerations that help us understand why and when it might not be best to stay together for the kids.
1. The family home is not stable
A child’s wellbeing will likely be diminished if they’re living in an unhappy, high-conflict home. Staying together at all costs won’t create a stable, happy home. Your children may be better off if you can amicably co-parent in separate households.
2. Greater financial stability
Staying together for the sake of the kids could mean greater financial stability through the child-raising years. But separating could mean new financial opportunities, such as a new job, which could minimise economic disadvantage after divorce.
3. Modelling healthy relationships
Marital conflict and even ambivalence can have negative impacts on children. When parents stay together for the sake of their kids, they’re not necessarily navigating and maintaining a healthy adult romantic relationship. Witnessing conflict, passive-aggressive behavior, or ambivalence can mean those behaviours are repeated in a child’s own adult relationships.
4. Delayed healing time
If your marriage is effectively over, does it fool anyone, least of all your kids, if you perpetuate a ‘life as normal, happy family’ image? Children know if their family unit is authentic.
The longer you remain in a dysfunctional marriage, the longer your kids are exposed to that dysfunction. And the longer it can take for all of you to heal, once you finally do make a fresh start.
5. Are you avoiding reality?
Sometimes keeping the family unit together, no matter what, can simply delay the inevitable. The age of divorcing couples has been steadily rising since the 1980s, as has the duration of marriages ending in divorce. This may reflect a trend of staying together until all the kids have grown up. Many unhappy years could pass in the interim—for you, your ex-partner, and your children.
6. An opportunity to build resilience
If parents prioritise their children’s emotional, mental, and physical health, divorce can be a manageable and even positive experience. Children can be supported in navigating their new reality of living between two homes with parents who love them. Healthy co-parenting can go a long way toward overcoming the negative impacts of divorce.
7. Your child’s educational, health and wellbeing outcomes
While the research shows that children raised by their happily married parents tend to have better educational outcomes and a happier and healthier life, this is dependent on their being in a stable and conflict-free home environment.
If you can co-parent in an amicable, healthy way, it’s possible to prioritise your children’s health, wellbeing, and educational outcomes and reduce the negative impacts of your divorce. And if the alternative is a conflict-filled marital home, the outcomes will surely be better for your children.
8. Your child’s relationship with each parent
As the research indicates, a child can develop a strong relationship with each parent in a stable home environment if they have ready access to them through time, attention, and interest. So continuing to provide them with that time, attention, and interest will ensure that you (and your ex-partner) continue to have and even build a healthy, ongoing relationship with your children. And if you need help, you can always seek professional support to ensure that you’re building this relationship healthily.
9. Build more trust
If you remain honest with your kids about your relationship and amicably attempt to resolve any conflicts, you’re helping them build a foundation of trust and respect. If staying together for the sake of your kids means that they’re exposed to your constant criticism or negative talk about your spouse, it could be healthier—and more truthful—for you to separate. Kids love both their parents and resent having to ‘make nice’ or choose between them.
10. Prioritise safety
If you or your kids are unsafe in your marriage due to family violence, it’s not the time to stick it out. Prioritising the physical safety of you and your kids is paramount.
Staying in a relationship because of a child?
Even if you think divorce is the only option for you and your spouse, there is plenty you can do to minimise any negative impacts on your kids. Working with your ex-partner to co-parent for the sake of the kids can lead to much healthier and more successful outcomes than staying together at all costs.
Whatever you decide, help is at hand.
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