In 2014, research found that
65% of children of divorced parents felt that their exam results had been adversely affected by the divorce. Other children may use academic work as a means of distracting themselves from their home lives.
Ella Rauen-Prestes describes the effect that her parents’ divorce had on her at the age of eight. Going on to be the founder of her own business, FitBakes, Ella states that her experience of parents divorcing at school
‘impacted many aspects of my life. Surprisingly, at school it pushed me up, as I stayed more hours at school or locked in my room, so ended up getting great grades. It was my escape.’
With this in mind, how can parents who are going through a divorce support their child, both in terms of their studies and their general wellbeing?
At GCSE Level
Studying for GCSEs can be hard work at the best of times, and if there is upheaval in a student’s personal life then finding the motivation to revise is even more of a challenge. Parents going through a divorce can support their child by:
As far as possible, avoiding disruption to their schooling
After a divorce, some children have to move school. For GCSE students this means disrupting their studies at a crucial time and this upheaval can also considerably impact their friendships. If you can’t keep them in the same school, then work with your child and the new school to minimise the impact of a move.
Keeping the school informed
Tell your child’s school about your situation as early as possible - they will want to know about any change in personal circumstances. They can look out for your child’s general wellbeing, as well as providing a consistent voice in support of their studies.
Most schools have a Separated Parents Policy which means they need to keep both parents informed, but you will still need to communicate with your co-parent about your son or daughter’s schooling.
Having an open and constructive relationship with an ex-partner
This is perhaps the most important thing of all. Relationship breakdowns are very hard, but it is important for your child that their own relationships do not suffer as a result.
In terms of helping them with their studies this is also crucial, because if your child is having to revise in multiple locations it will be more difficult to keep on top of whether or not they are doing the work.
Regular meetings or phone conversations - or, if talking is not realistic, written communications - will help you understand how your child is getting on. Agreeing with your ex-partner on what you expect from your child will also provide them with some guidance.
Creating a dedicated study space
If your child is having to study in multiple places then making sure they have a quiet space to work, away from any distractions, will be helpful. If this can’t be achieved everywhere, you could look at options like a local library.
Being practical and flexible
A strict schedule for contact visits may not be helpful for a student trying to revise, so be willing to adapt your expectations based on what they need.
Sixth form, college and beyond
Most of the above also applies for young people who go on to study after their GCSEs, but given that they are likely to also be thinking about their future career plans there are additional things to keep in mind:
Talk to your co-parent about how you will support your child’s next steps
There are many options available to young people after they finish their GCSEs. Your child will need to spend some time thinking about what they want to do and, when it comes to university, where they want to apply.
Being supportive of their choices means you and your ex-partner will need to keep communicating, so as not add to any stress that these decisions might cause. For example, you might want to attend Open Days together with your child or, if that isn’t possible, split the visits so that you both get to experience this.
Discuss how you will pay for university
Under the Child Maintenance System, maintenance usually stops when a child leaves compulsory full-time education, which is generally 16. There is no specific
requirement for the parent who does not live at home to contribute to the cost of what is called tertiary education - ie, college or university.
If your child wants to attend university you should discuss this with your ex-partner as early as you can, making sure you agree on what is financially possible and are able to communicate this without contradicting or undermining one another. Many agree on contributions to university costs as part of the divorce settlement, but there are other options.
Overall, the best thing you can do for your child when you are going through a divorce is to make sure that they are the focus, particularly when it comes to the exam period. Avoid criticism of your ex-partner and keep the lines of communication open so that you can both support your child at this particularly stressful time.