Father comforts a sad child. Problems in the family

While concerns regarding your children may be utmost on your mind, children suffer when they literally become the center of the divorce process.

Having divorced parents does not mean a child is not entitled to have a positive relationship with both of them. No matter how angry or bitter the parents may feel toward each other, expressing that anger to their children will hurt them, as well.

When clients ask me for an appropriate way to explain their divorce to their children, I tell them the first thing to consider is the age of the children. Generally, the younger the child, the less he/she needs to know. However, the child should be assured that this is a “grown-up” issue that was not caused by him/her and that both parents love him/her. With older children, it becomes more complicated. They have a greater level of awareness of the tension between their parents and are sometimes used as intermediaries between their parents, or as pawns in the divorce process. Below are just three of the most common symptoms of a divorce that may be toxic to children:

– One parent makes the child feel guilty about enjoying time with the other parent;

– A mother or father may be unable to put his/her own emotions aside in front of the child, which can influence the child’s attitude and emotional state; and

– Utilizing the children as pawns in the divorce proceedings as a means to a financial end – for example, one party may seek custody when he/she does not really want it, as a strategy to get the other party to give up certain financial rights. That party then offers to forego his/her custody pursuit, but only on the condition that the other party does not seek certain economic interests.

Avoiding the pitfalls above is not easy for every parent due to the emotional nature of a divorce proceeding. However, every parent should keep in mind that fostering a positive relationship between the child and the other parent is almost always beneficial. In order to do this, a parent can use such techniques as:

– Allowing more private phone time between the child and the non-custodial parent;

– Helping the children purchase holiday and birthday gifts for the other parent; and

– Not “grilling” the children about what the other spouse said or did during visitation.

Divorce today is not what it was in the 1950s. Modern family law practitioners have benefitted from the accumulated wisdom of our predecessors in both law and the social sciences. Spouses coming into our offices today can expect plain English explanations of the legal concepts and practical issues relevant to their case, as well as a bird’s eye report of the progress made – and work still yet to do.