Please find a list below of our policy positions on a range of areas and issues concerning relationships and relationship health.
Other than in cases where there are safeguarding concerns, we believe that the family court is often not the best place for separated and separating parents to resolve disputes over childcare arrangements. Disagreements about children may be symptoms of unresolved emotions following relationship breakdown, yet relational issues are not best addressed in a system designed to administer justice. We believe that the Government should make available a wide range of support and interventions, including mentalization-based therapy for parents (which has been so successful in the Government's Reducing Parental Conflict programme (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reducing-parental-conflict-programme-evaluation-second-report-on-implementation), to ensure that parents can be helped to parent more collaboratively, in the best interests of their children.
"Family relationships” is the second most common reason why children contact ChildLine (NSPCC, 2018) and the most commonly cited presenting problem in young people’s IAPT services (Wolpert, 2017). A survey of clinicians in an inner London CAMH service revealed that inter-parental conflict had contributed significantly to the mental health difficulties of the child or young person for nearly half of all cases (Mees, 2017). We believe that the omission of couple therapists from multidisciplinary CAMHS teams leads to poorer outcomes for children. Indeed, a pilot study shown that the inclusion of a couple therapist in a CAMHS team leads to reductions in children’s mental health problems and behavioural issues, and many of the cases closed as a result.
The presence of a couple therapist in a CAMHS team can be invaluable in helping parents reflect on the nature and quality of their relationships, as well as enabling the service as a whole to think about couple dynamics and couple conflict specifically.
We welcome the introduction of 'no fault' divorce via the Divorce Act. The current law, which the Act will replace, amplifies conflict between divorcing partners, affecting the developmental outcomes of children. Implementation of the Act should however include support measures for couples before, during and after separation and divorce, to give children the best chance of growing up with parents who can parent collaboratively.
Divorce is a process not an end-point: many couples who are legally divorced remain psychologically entwined with their ex-partner, often with negative impacts on children involved.
Research has long demonstrated that inter-parental conflict which is frequent, intense and poorly resolved can be profoundly damaging to children’s mental health. However, conflict between parents which is non-violent is also detrimental to child development, studies show.
Exposure to inter-parental conflict can affect children of all ages (including babies) and can manifest itself as increased anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility, anti-social behaviour and criminality as well as poorer academic attainment.
The effect of inter-parental conflict on children depends both upon the manner in which it is expressed, managed and resolved, as well as the extent to which children feel at fault for, or threatened by, their parent’s relationship arguments.
The relationship between parents serves as a model for the expectations children have of other family relationships, including the parent-child relationship. It is important therefore that we do not only promote family-focused interventions which target parenting; instead, we should invest in programmes that focus on couple relationship quality, since it is these programmes which have been evidenced to offer significant benefits to children.
Tavistock Relationships is primarily concerned with helping people enjoy good quality relationships which provide stability and security for families. Indeed, it is the quality of people’s relationships, rather than their structure, which is most important in terms of children’s outcomes, our own experience helping couples for more than 70 years tells us. Marriage is an important institution, and an institution which we support; however, it is not the only form which stable, committed relationships can take. Debates about the pros and cons of marriage tend to become quickly polarised.
Understanding the capacities that enable people to enter into, and sustain, stable and committed relationships – and how to help people develop such capacities – are what motivates us, and therefore constitute the focus for our work.