Infant Mental Health Awareness Week – Impact of Divorce & Separation


This week is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (13th – 19th June 2022). It is a week when we, as family lawyers, are particularly mindful of the impact that divorce and separation may have on infant children (children from 0 – 2 years).

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is designed to raise awareness of the importance of the social and emotional development of babies and infants. It highlights the crucial part played by the sensitive and nurturing relationships between parents and babies which are so fundamental to infant mental health. The theme of this year’s Infant Mental Health Week is understanding early trauma.

Research from Professor Gordon Harold of Cambridge University has shown that frequent unresolved conflict between parents can have long term consequences on the mental health of children, including infant children. That is why it is so important to take areas of potential conflict away from the process of separation. This is a point so powerfully made by the Family Solutions Group in their recent campaign #whataboutme.

In our forthcoming episode of the FLiP podcast, FLiP director Elizabeth Fletcher and our in-house counsellor Joanna Harrison discuss the special considerations that parents might want to bear in mind if they are separating or divorcing and they have infant children.

Elizabeth provides an insight into the legal considerations whilst Joanna looks at the emotional and psychological impact. They discuss the need for flexibility and an open mind notwithstanding the fact that the traditional legal position supports frequent contact between separated parents and the child. They acknowledge that this can be hard for the parents particularly when trust has been lost or where there is animosity between the parents. Counselling or therapy can help here.

Elizabeth and Joanna look at the anxieties that many parents feel as they transition from becoming new parents to becoming separated parents. They discuss how it is possible to successfully co-parent together as unified, but separated parents, acknowledging the long journey ahead for the parents of infants.

Although the court system in England & Wales is an adversarial system there are processes outside the court system like family mediation which can support parents to reach agreement. Whilst the family lawyers can focus on the practical, legal implications and arrangements, parents should also try to focus on their long term priorities as separated parents. Therapeutic support from counsellors like FLiP’s Joanna Harrison can help parents to identify their priorities.

Meanwhile courses such as Family Law in Partnership’s Parenting After Parting course can also help parents to put their children’s needs at the heart of their decision making when going through a divorce or separation.

Look out for our podcast which will be available shortly.