When Children Become Victims of Marital War
When parents call it quits on their marriage, the children will also feel pain and suffer in silence - some are used as pawns in custody battles or even kidnapped by their mother or father. What happens when children become the victims of marital war?
When parents put an end to their union, the whole family unit will be affected and if children are involved, a breakup or a divorce is never just about mum and dad – the little ones go through the anguish of watching the two people they love most part ways, and they will then be left with just one. This is a difficult time for everyone, but what if things turn ugly and the children become marital war victims?
When love and hate collide
Nobody wants their relationship or marriage to end badly and no parent would ever want to put their child through the trauma of a bitter divorce breakup, and it certainly wasn’t the fairytale ending *Rebecca, a psychologist from Singapore, had in mind when she met her partner *Dave, an Australian executive, when they were both working and living in Hong Kong.
It started off as a whirlwind romance when they first met in a bar in Lan Kwai Fong, and their relationship was on again, off again, but when she got pregnant, they decided to tie the knot and raise their child together.
However, things turned sour on the way to their wedding ceremony when Dave presented Rebecca with a pre-nuptial agreement, which triggered a quarrel and she eventually called the whole wedding off.
She then took their 18-month old daughter and sent Dave a text message to tell him that she and the baby were leaving the country and heading back home to Singapore.
Usually in cases involving toddlers who were born out of wedlock, custody will go to the mother, but Dave wanted his daughter to live with him and accused Rebecca of taking their little girl from her home in Hong Kong.
Rebecca has refused to let Dave visit his daughter and she insists that Singapore is the appropriate venue for the custody battle, so has since filed court papers here for a hearing.
Distraught and heartbroken, Dave has created his own blog where he writes personal letters to his daughter, hoping that some day she will get to read them and know just how much he loves and misses her.
*Not their real names
Children used as pawns
When *Nate was just a toddler, his parents ended their marriage and even though his father was allowed to see him and have him over on the weekends, his mother eventually had a change of heart.
She was unhappy with the fact that her ex-husband’s new fiancée was bonding so well with Nate and that they would always spend time together like a happy little family.
So she started making up excuses as to why Nate couldn’t spend the day with his dad and even informed his school not to allow his father onto the premises nor let him meet his own son.
Nate’s father was upset and desperate to see him, but after many disappointing failed attempts, he gave up and moved to another country, eventually ending up in Singapore.
Nate grew up not really knowing his biological father and was told by his mother and grandparents that he abandoned him.
But against his mother’s wishes, Nate somehow managed to track him down and they got in touch.
After years of not seeing his father, Nate, now in his 30s, finally flew to Singapore to meet him and his new family for the very first time, where he then spent some time getting to know his half-siblings and had a peek into the life he could have had.
Even though Nate had a stepdad and two other half-siblings while growing up, he still longed to connect with his real father and until this very day, he still calls his biological father and his new wife on the phone to chat about what he’s been up to.
*Not his real name
Victims of marital war
Breakups and divorces can have lifelong effects on children, even when they have grown up, and the impact lasts forever.
Penelope Leach, Britain’s leading parenting guru and author of the international bestseller, Your Baby And Child, feels that divorce or separation will always be bad for children.
She says, “Break-up is seen as primarily adults’ business, but it’s just as much about children’s lives. Children are being used as weapons in the marital war when actually they are its victims.”
Although mothers are usually the primary attachment figure for children, Leach also believes that fathers are just as important to a child’s life as mothers.
“Children who have a close relationship with their fathers do better through life in every way”, she explains.
This is something all too familiar to Principal judge Dr Laxmi Rao, who says that children are used as a pawn and “it is observed time and time again in his court that the custodial parent will deprive the other parent of reasonable access to their child, without realising that the child needs both parents for a wholesome upbringing into a good adult.”
He also points out the irony where custodial parents promptly seek child maintenance amount but will find creative ways and means to avoid and delay the access to the other parent.
Child abduction law in Singapore
The Singapore Central Authority (SCA) works with other Central Authorities to help facilitate applications for the return of children who have been taken to or from Singapore without permission of the parent who has custody rights.
If you are worried that your partner might try to abduct your child and possibly try to bring them out of the country, it is important that you engage a qualified lawyer to give you legal advice.
But the SCA also advises you apply to the Court to issue an injunction restraining your partner from taking your child out of Singapore.
If your child has been removed to or retained in Singapore, SCA can assist in facilitating and giving information on:
- The location and voluntary return of your child
- The care and protection of the child (if necessary)
- How to apply to the Family Court
- Legal aid
- Services for counselling and emotional support
However, parental child abduction is not considered a criminal issue in Singapore but is viewed as a civil matter.
What to tell your kids
When a relationship breaks down, both parties will feel pain and perhaps even resentment towards each other, but parents should remember that it is stressful, confusing and upsetting for your children too.
If your kids are old enough to understand, it is good to be honest with them and just follow these simple steps:
Tell the truth
Your kids have the right to know why you and your partner are splitting up, because it affects their lives too. So give them a short and straightforward answer such as, “We just can’t get along anymore”.
Address the changes
They need to know how things are going to change, such as their living arrangements, who will send or pick them up from school, when and if they will get to see the other parent. But remind them about what will still remain the same.
Avoid the blame-game
Even if you hate your ex’s guts, and especially if they did hurtful things such as had an affair, try not to be critical of them in front of your kids.
Reassure them that it is not their fault
Children might blame themselves for mum and dad’s breakup, which can affect their self-esteem, growth and joy, so it is important that you reassure them that they are not to blame and the decision was entirely made by you and your partner.
Remind them that you love them
Your children might be feeling scared and anxious about the whole ordeal, so it is reassuring for them to know that no matter what is happening, you still love them very much and that will never change.
Allow them to have both parents in their lives
Mums and dads bring different yet important things to parent-child relationships and it doesn’t matter who gets custody, as long as your kids get to divide their time between both parents.
It is not fair on your kids if you deprive them of meeting or spending time with their other parent as they can benefit from the emotional and financial support of both parents.
If you are denying your ex access to your kids, a scholarly consensus agrees that severe parental alienation is a form of neglect or abuse, as every child has a fundamental right and need for a healthy and and loving relationship with both parents.
The negative effects may even include:
- Low self esteem
- Lack of trust
- Substance abuse
- Other forms of addiction
Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, Edward Kruk, Ph.D, who specialises in child and family policy, explains that children who have been forced away from one of their parents (in the absence of abuse) are highly subject to post-traumatic stress.
He also believes that alienated children suffer the same damage as other child victims of extreme conflict, such as child soldiers and other abducted children.
Do what’s best for your child
Unless your ex was abusive and posing a threat to your children’s health and well-being, you should set your differences aside and have the parental maturity to allow visitation rights.
Even though he or she may have caused you a lot of emotional pain and there is no need for the two of you to even remain as friends after your breakup or divorce, look at them as a business partner now and your joint goal is to raise your children the best way possible.
You may feel that your ex deserves this punishment by not being allowed to see his or her kids, but if you think about it carefully, you are also punishing your own children by denying them the love and connection with their other parent.
As difficult as it may be, your ex is still their father or mother after all and it is the two of you who are going through a divorce, not your children.
What do you feel when children become victims of marital war? Do you have a similar story to share? We would love to read your comments below.