Child-Centered Divorce

Breaking up is hard to do – it’s hard no matter which side you’re on. It’s especially hard for the ones not in the marriage: the children.

Parents rarely consult their children or seek their thoughts and advice before divorcing. This is understandable, but unfortunately while the children are not consulted, they are directly (and likely most significantly) impacted by the decision.

Often people “fight over” the kids. Sometimes, and more sadly, they fight for more parenting time not out of love for the children, but instead to simply pay less in child support. Despite those litigants, I am always impressed with the clients who are able to come to agreements about their children’s well-being even if the parents themselves are embroiled in a bitter war over property division or spousal support. I truly applaud those parents who are able to compartmentalize the situation and work together for the best interests of their children separately from the “business” of the divorce.

To have a truly child-centered divorce, you must remember thatyou are the parent (and adult) and they are the kids. This means it is your job, not theirs, to facilitate and encourage their relationship not just with you but also with the other parent. Do not yell or get mad at your children when they casually refer to the other parent’s house as “home” in a conversation. Yes, it may sting but choose a more appropriate time later to address it by saying, “I’m glad you think of your [dad’s] house as your home, but I hope you feel this is also your home too. What can I do to help you feel comfortable in both places?” Don’t instead scream, “THIS IS YOUR HOME!” Remember that to the children both places are their home, and that they love both of you. It is incredibly stressful for a child to constantly censor their speech and phrases to make sure the parents’ feelings aren’t wounded. Speaking from experience as a child of divorce, the constant tip-toeing can get exhausting and have serious long term effects on a child’s future relationships and development.

Communication with your children is key for a child-centered divorce. Try to set up a routine but non-intrusive way of communicating with them while they are with the other parent. Call them around the same time each night to say goodnight and briefly recap their day, but keep it to a reasonable length and time of day so as not to intrude on the other parent’s time. Don’tdemand that the children be the ones to initiate the call and require a strict time for the call. Further, if the children do call, do not get angry if the call is late or does not happen. Simply call them and be genuinely interested in them and their day. Again, you are the parent and they are the kids. You and your spouse are the ones divorcing; the kids are the innocent victims. Don’t compound the pain and confusion they feel by forcing upon them the role of affirmatively preserving their relationship with you. It is your job to guide the parent-child relationship, not theirs.

If you truly take a step back, focus on what is best for the kids in any given situation and not what will most effectively punish your spouse, you will have a child-centered divorce. Final food for thought: I read a study several years ago which confirmed that children of low conflict divorce struggled for the first couple of years (emotionally, academically, et cetera) but ultimately adjusted well after a relatively short time. However, children of high conflict divorce often go into self-preservation mode and put themselves in roles which are now vacant such as becoming a parent’s confidant, secondary parent to younger siblings, rule-enforcer, or housekeeper. These children are simply doing whatever they can to keep the peace to any extent possible or to fulfill roles which are now lacking. Unfortunately while they seem to adjust well in the short term, these children have devastating lasting emotional effects which are often not fully realized until adulthood when their own relationships and self-esteem suffer greatly.

To minimize the damage to the children, have a serious discussion with your spouse about a child-centered divorce. You may need a compassionate attorney by your side to help with the process. If you need help to achieve a child-centered divorce, please call us.

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