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Giving children quality custody, upkeep and access after divorce

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As divorce rate continues to rise, little attention is paid to the children, who are perhaps the most affected, as they are usually caught in-between parting parents. When the children are still at an impressionable age, the whole process can really be traumatic. So, how can children from broken homes be helped, so that they are still able to find fulfilment in life, without carrying the scars associated with children from broken homes?

Professor of sociology, University of Lagos, Mrs. Chinyere Nnorom said children whose parents have divorced suffer a lot of sociological disturbances, one of which is improper upbringing.

She said: “Naturally, both parents have roles to play in a child’s upbringing. So, absence of one of them during childhood might lead to improper nurturing, which in turn might affect society. The children from such homes will constitute a nuisance to society, due to lack of inappropriate behaviours.

“The responsibility of imparting societal norms and values is left largely in the hands of the family, specifically parents. So, when one of the parents is absent, inculcating the right attitude and behaviour in the children will be burdensome on one parent. The problems of juvenile delinquency, street urchins and touting are mostly as a result of absence of parental control.”

Nnorom explained that despite this, children from broken homes can still turn out good in life through the intervention of government and well-meaning individuals by rehabilitating and empowering them with skills that will keep them out of the streets.

“Nigerians, who are better endowed in terms of financial resources, can help by establishing skills acquisition centres, where such children can be empowered or better still, offer them scholarships to further their education,” she said. “With the trending of entrepreneurial skills acquisition, funded by government and well-meaning philanthropists, many can be saved from becoming street children with its attendant problems.”

She, however, said it is better to tackle the root cause of the issue, so that people and society are spared a lot of distress and pain arising from marital woes.

“For a starter, parents should stop influencing their children’s choice of life partners,” she explained. “This is because when children are forced to marry partners that are not their choice, every little misunderstanding is escalated to the level of threatening divorce.

“However, if children make their own choices, they are likely to tolerate their partners’ excesses. They would have been at home with some of these attitudes before accepting to form a union. By so doing, the society would be saved from the incessant broken homes characteristic of the present times.”

She also noted that even children from homes that are intact can still pose problems to society, if not well brought up.

She said: “Parents can raise responsible, stable children by getting involved with the day-to-day upbringing/training of their children from infancy to adolescence. During this period, the character and values instilled in the child endures longer and helps to form his/her behaviour later in life.

“When a child is given the right direction from childhood, the child will toe the path and behave in the way expected of him/her. Again, parents should serve as role models by behaving in the manner they expect of the children. However, children also have a role to play in the creation of a happy, stable and peaceful home. They can do this by being obedient and listening to their parents’ advice. And if parents succeed in raising their children in a happy, peaceful home, they are likely to imitate this in their own homes, when they get married.”

Similarly, Dr. Passy Amaraegbu, a Clinical Psychologist, said divorce generally has negative impact on the children.

He said: “This begins with a deep sense of disappointment, psychic pain and loss, which if not arrested, may degenerate into post traumatic stress disorder. Such symptoms as depression, manic depression, violence, and harmful behaviours targeted at self and others may evolve. Depending on their age, children from broken homes would need serious intervention to recover. The younger the children, the more consequential the impacts of the separation or divorce.

“In a violent marriage, temporary separation may be necessary to arrest the violence. According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, safety and security are the second human needs, which should be met after the basic ones. To prevent divorce, mature members from the two families should be involved in settling issues. It is very appropriate to engage the sponsors or mentors of such a marriage at such critical time. Most importantly, the couple should engage the services of professional counselor or therapist.”

What should be the roles of divorced/separated parents, so their children are not too affected?

He said: “Separated or divorced couples should go the extra mile to help their children recover. Consequently, the parents should take their defined roles more seriously. They can engage accountability partners to help them in monitoring their commitment to parental responsibilities. These include meeting the various needs of the children such as, economic, emotional, spiritual and academic, among others.

“For children to heal after divorce, they would equally need the services of a counselor or therapist. They would also benefit from good spiritual atmosphere. It would be of immense psychological and spiritual benefits to help the children forgive their parents, as it will facilitate the healing process. It is advisable and encouraging for the divorced couple to join hands together to care for their children. This arrangement can be monitored by the counselor or marriage sponsors.

“Children of divorced parents can so recover that the negative impact is reduced or removed entirely. The strategies the children would employ include: Getting good mentors, deciding to live responsibly, engaging in personal discipline programmes and praying to God for help.”

Lawyer and child rights activist, Taiwo Akinlami said divorce, irrespective of reasons and justification advanced by parties, is not in the child’s best interest.

He said: “It is in this regard that divorce must always be the last resort and even where it is the last resort, the child is not immune against the consequences. In most cases, when couples decide to go their separate ways, they deliberately or negligently involve their children in their crisis or enlist them as a tool of revenge to get back at each other. We have seen instances where an estranged spouse incited the children in their custody against the other. There are people who also abandon the children to one estranged spouse.

“We have seen instances where estranged spouses denied the other access to their children, either by employing jungle justice or disobeying court order or even flouting a gentleman’s agreement reached before adjudicating bodies. It is important to note that depending on the children’s age, and even when couples separated and became best of friends, it still has grave influence on the children. What we have are not estranged couples but estranged families.

“In a divorce, there are three fundamental legal issues when it comes to children and their parents. Parents are responsible for custody, access and the children’s upkeep. It is important to note that both parties cannot have custody, which means where one has custody the other has access. It is also important to note that an estranged spouse may not be granted custody, but he/she must not be denied access, which can be regulated, for example, supervised visit.

“The children’s upkeep is also the responsibility of both parties in accordance with the agreement before an adjudicating body or a court of law.

“The decisions in respect of these three fundamental areas of care, according to the law, must always be in the child’s best interest. The decisions in respect of same are either taken through alternative dispute resolution, that is, through mediation by a body set up by the executive arm of government. For instance, Lagos State government has such bodies as Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT), Ministry of Youths and Sports and Office of Public Defender, among others handling such matters.

“The foregoing decision on the children’s wellbeing can also be as a result of a decision of the court, either in a divorce proceeding or child custody matter. From my experience, estranged couples are not always magnanimous, either in victory or defeat. Often, couples become very bitter and they use their children to get back at each other by denying access, custody and refusal to take responsibility for the children’s upkeep.

“We have seen instances where an estranged spouse changed the children’s school without the other party’s awareness, and has left standing instructions in the new school that the other party be not granted access to the children.”

But shouldn’t relevant authorities ensure enforcement and compliance with court orders and judgment with regards to children’s custody and upkeep?

“Enforcement are carried out by reverting to the regulatory bodies that took the decision on custody, upkeep and access to further hold the erring party responsible. For example, regarding upkeep, the adjudicating body might want to write the erring party’s employers or get them involved. Where he/she is self-employed, evidence can be adduced to establish the means of the erring party, which would enable the court to give an order which if not obeyed, he/she could be sentenced for contempt of court.

“It is important to note, however, that the greatest tool of enforcement is for the estranged parties to know that their children are already traumatised by the experience of their own crisis, because no child should be raised in a troubled home (a child is anybody below 18).

“That their relationship did not work for whatever reason is not the children’s fault. So, even if they are not repentant towards each other, they must in repentance do everything within their power to protect the children from the negative impact of divorce, instead of deliberately or negligently involving them.”

Child Developmental Clinician and CEO of Nobelova Gradani Psychoeducational Services, Helen Oshikoya, said divorce is a very devastating episode in a child’s life, and under normal circumstances, the way the break happened will determine how the child reacts.

She said: “Nothing much can be done, if the parents want to separate or divorce. But what one can do is talk the children through it, and make them understand that they can’t stay together under one roof.”

On who to take care of minors during divorce, she said: “In reality, some mothers just give birth, but are not actually mothers. Some fathers do better than mothers in caring for the child. So, what to focus on is who is the beter person to take good care of the child and not whether it is the mother or the father. We should also look at the working pattern of the parents and see which will suit the children. If you have a good extended family support, you can embrace it but if not, getting a divorce could create a better extended family network.

“It is important that divorced couples discuss how best to manage the children. No one can do that for them. The people involved should know the amount of time they can give, but they could have rotational weekends.

“The children could spend time with either of the parents rotationally, depending on the primary sole person responsible for the children. The most important thing is ensuring the children are not deprived of anything subsequently after divorce.”


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