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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

The real cost of divorce is far worse than the financial outlay

Tussling over money is one thing, but damaging your children in the process is another

Illustration by Gary Clement
Illustration by Gary Clement

“They’re arguing over who gets the money," an 11-year-old I had just met babbled to me. He did not stop for breath.

"The money comes with us,” he said, referring to the money allocated to the parent who looks after him and his siblings.

It was as though the darkness that enveloped us offered him sanctuary, and the safety to offload.

He told me that his father lives in Australia. He, his mother and three siblings were in the UK. They had been expats until the split.

We met along a dark country lane where I was taking a late walk over the summer break. He had stopped me to ask for directions to get home before our conversation led to his outpouring.

Divorce is never easy or simple, especially when young children are involved.

The boy had been using his mother’s computer when an email came through from his father titled ‘consent’. He thought it was to do with school and clicked. Instead it opened up a trail of anger, accusation and - it seemed to the boy - a desire to abdicate as parents.

One disagreement was to do with where he lives. His father wants him to move in with him in Australia, his mother wants him with her. The 11-year old explained they were fighting over him because he meant more money – more money saved by his father if he moves in with him versus more money paid out to his mother if he stays with her. According to him, he is ‘worth’ more because he is the eldest. If he didn’t live with his mother, his father would pay much less than three quarters of £36,000 (the amount divided by the four siblings). And so, through the eyes of this impressionable boy – and reasonably so – it appears that the parents are arguing over how to get more money instead of wanting him.

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Read more:

Students must master personal finance before flying off to university

Monopoly may be a game but it comes with serious life lessons

Digitise your IOUs to make lending a pleasure not a pain

Rewarding your child for studying hard rarely pays off

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Whether this story is correct is irrelevant to me. I am looking at it through the emotions of this young person – his anxiety, his understanding of the situation and his belief around his worth.

More fundamentally though, and possibly more damaging, is the issue of trust. He no longer trusts either parent. When he turns 16, he plans to move in with his grandfather - something he has not shared with anyone in his family.

He told me it has been financially very tough for his mother’s household. At one point she was juggling three jobs and a course, but now things are better because she recently started work at a private school where food is provided.

That he highlights free food speaks volumes of their situation. I can only imagine how stressed they all are. Unfortunately, the children associate this feeling with their mother, a graduate with multiple feathers in her cap, trying to cope.

I am sure she’d identify with the anonymous author of this open letter on a blog that focuses on single parenthood. The author was explaining to her government that the various incentives they were developing have no relevance to the exhausting reality of living as a single parent trying to stay solvent:

"I have no recent or relevant references, a patchy varied CV, no suitable work opportunities within a reasonable radius of home and even if there were vacancies offering the opportunity to modernise and validate my skills/CV I’m apparently the ‘wrong’ age," wrote the author.

"We are experiencing ongoing long term hardship, debts are accumulating weekly and I have sole responsibility for a rapidly growing, hungry teenager."

I know many in this boat.

The stress of divorce is compounded by the children of divorce having to move down the socioeconomic ladder. It’s believed that this is more of a contributor to worse grades and behavioural issues – the becoming poorer, worrying about money and being stressed – over and above the divorce in itself.

Regular readers will know where I stand regarding this mostly female problem. It’s rubbish. This view is backed by a report published in March 2017 by the UK's Chartered Insurance Institute. The research emphasises that divorce and separation are a significant financial risk to women left “vulnerable” by joint decisions made while they were in a long-term relationship.

I am unable to comprehend how a parent can see fit to deny the other parent – the carer parent – financial support that is enough for a decent life. The welfare of their children is at stake.

His mother happened upon us – she’d decided to risk leaving her three others and drive around looking for him – it turns out he’d had enough phone battery to tell her where he was, and that he was making his way home. He refused to call her from my phone.

Perhaps he needed the respite anonymity proffers, and the chance to get things off his chest with a total stranger. As they departed I heard familial growls and raised voices – his respite was short-lived, I hope it helped.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com