Divorcing parents often agonize over what and how to tell their children about the divorce. Navigating a contentious divorce and/or custody battle is difficult even in the best possible situation, and sometimes parents lash out at each other and inadvertently put their children in the middle of the dispute. This is disastrous for you, your child, and your case. In this first blog post, we outline common mistakes and behaviors that put children in the middle of a divorce.
If you are going through a contested divorce or a custody case, please heed the following advice outlined in this post and our companion blog post “Do Good!”
Do no harm!
- Don’t put down the other parent…in any way…ever. This is not limited to name calling. This includes saying anything to paint the parent as the villain or in a bad light. Remember also, children are excellent at “overhearing” a parent’s conversation. Make sure private conversations are indeed private. Make sure to tell your family and friends that they are not to discuss your divorce/custody case with your child/children or in their presence.
- Do not use your child/children as a pawn: It is important not to use your child/children as a way to get what you want in a family court case.
- Don’t Reveal Details to your children. Don’t tell the details of why you and your significant other split. Do not share adult topics with children, especially when it makes the other parent look like the “bad guy.” Instead, handle questions delicately. If your children are old enough to ask questions about the split, handle it delicately and make sure to use it as an opportunity to reassure your child. Let your child know you and your spouse have decided to live apart, but that both parents love her and will be there for her.
- Don’t bring paramours around your children. You might even call this person your “friend,” but children are perceptive. Remember, your children probably feel like their world is now unstable. This is not just during a divorce, but for a while after it is final. Bringing in a new person as an object of your affections is going to increase the feeling of instability. Keep your romantic life separate from your children until they have healed. Even then, think twice about having a boyfriend or girlfriend enter the lives of your children only to leave months later. This is not building a stable home for your children.
- Don’t Put Words in Their Mouths. The situation: you are in the middle of a custody dispute and the Guardian ad litem in the case wants to talk to your child. Do not coach your child to say certain things about the other parent. Let her know that the guardian is going to ask some questions and it is her job to answer the questions honestly. Leave it at that. The guardian’s investigation is not wholly reliant on what your child says (unless your child is in danger), but also reliant upon observations and home visits.
- Don’t forget that your child/children are hurting as well. Listen to them when they talk, answer questions with as little details as possible. Do not be afraid to go to counseling with your child.
- Don’t shut the other parent out. Just because the other parent may not have custody that does not mean that he/she does not have the right to have full knowledge of the child’s extracurricular activities, medical/ dental appointments, health, changes in appearance, and any other important events. If open communication is difficult or unhealthy in your situation, talk to your attorney about what is appropriate in your case. Our Family Wizard is a great resource in difficult cases. With this service, parents communicate with each other through a message board, and all communication is saved.
Remember, your children should never be in the role of a friend to comfort you, a judge to condemn the other parent’s actions, or a spy to report on the other parent.
Next Post: The Rules: How not to ruin your children when divorcing: Do Good!