How to keep your kids out of court (protecting children from litigating a divorce)
Divorce, or dissolution of marriage as it is now called in most states, is sometimes even harder on children that it is on the adults. Especially minor children are affected as they have no say in what will happen to their future life and in fact, will be made to go along with the final judgment signed by a judge. Not only will they, in many cases, need to move to a new home but will now have two homes to split their overnights. How stressful it must be to have to bounce from one house to the other on a regular basis, dealing with different environments and personalities as their parents move on with their lives. Children must also see the persons they love the most go through emotional anguish and, unfortunately all to often watch angry exchanges between their parents. Too, if parents aren’t careful, they will speak unkindly about each other to their children, often in hopes of getting a child to “take their side” and even turn against the other parent.
All of the above situations are wrong,yet they happen in most families when a divorce is pending and frequently continue as time goes on. And what about older, adult children? They too are deeply affected when their parents divorce. They too need to be handled with understanding and honesty to keep them as free as possible from the actual litigation process and to help them adjust to the changes in their family in the years that follow.
First and foremost, parents need to remember they are, indeed, parents. They are the ones who brought their children into the world and are responsible for continuing to care and nurture those children through their entire life. Their children are not cause for the marital break-up and should not be made to be an actual part of it. Sometimes a parent has put children ahead of a spouse to such a degree the spouse feels abandoned but, once again, that is not the fault of the child. Whenever possible parents should shield children of all ages from the ugly parts of divorce, especially during litigation, while at the same time providing help for channeling their grief and guidance for what the future may bring. Here are some tips that can help keep children out of the “courtroom” drama.
1. Be honest with children about what is happening to the family as they have known it. This should be done at a time when emotions are stable, and both parents can share together with their children. Allow time for questions.
2. Don’t play “the blame game” either in words or actions.This includes talking down about the other parent. While difficult to do sometimes, especially when such issues as adultery or abusive behavior are involved, children need to feel loved by and be allowed to love each parent.
3. Keep communication lines open as children often feel they shouldn’t ask questions or feel they are to blame for their parents divorcing. Have a regular sharing time if possible, even if it must be with one parent at a time. Seeking the help of a family counselor, especially for minor children, can help a child have a safe place to vent their feelings and concerns and gain a sense of control over their life.
4. While children aren’t part of the actual decision-making process, especially if a judge will be making the final decisions, it is important to allow children to express their feelings on how they would like things to go at the final outcome. For example, there are items in the parenting plan such as extramural activities, church attendance, school attendance,what nights work best for overnights at one house or the other, that children can have an input which hopefully helps them feel a part of deciding their future. Here is where, if parents can create a marital settlement, a mediation is so much better than a courtroom decision. A marital settlement, because it is created by the couple, not a judge, can incorporate some of their children’s wishes.
5. Unless it is essential for a realistic outcome, children, minor or adult, should not be put on the witness stand to testify to some aspect of their parent’s marriage.
6. Neither parent should try to “buy” the children to hopefully have a child “pick a favorite.”Parents should agree on what extras could be appropriate to help a child through the difficult time of litigation,and each parent be allowed to share in the gift giving.
While families will differ in how they handle their children’s needs and concerns during the litigation of a divorce, there should be a bottom line of commonality. Both Parents should continually express their love as they reassure their children that whatever their future holds, neither parent will abandon them and that in no way did the children cause the divorce to happen.