Untying the Knot: Children & Divorce, Minimizing the Impact

By Susan J. Friedman, LCSW, DVS, BCD, Relationship Counseling

Decades of research shows that the most critical factor in how children cope with a divorce is the behavior of the parents. It is the parent’s behavior in response to divorce, rather than the divorce itself, that has the greatest and most important long-term impact on the children. As a divorcing parent it is important to recognize the reality that the divorce changes but does not end your relationship with your ex-spouse. What children need is open access to both parents as that provides children the stability they require. Every child deserves the best possible relationship with their parent. The better divorcing parents can collaborate on the changes they and their children will face, the better off they and their children will be.

When meeting with divorcing parents I ask them to ask themselves the following two questions:

  1. Can I say that I am working to be the best parent I can for my child?
  2. Can I say that I am doing everything I can to encourage my child to have the best relationship with the co-parent?

Parents rarely struggle with question one. Question two is often much more problematic. Two examples are: “That is really hard to do when his Dad says he will pick him up at the soccer game but always comes late;” or “Her Mom is so inconsistent. She will say that she is grounded for the weekend because of poor grades and then she will let her go to a sleepover.” Often each co-parent has a long list of complaints they are eager to ascribe to the error of the other parent. While complaints and frustrations may be real the question for each parent remains the same: Are you doing everything possible to assure a good relationship with your child’s co-parent?

Please consider the following questions before you start fighting over the children.

  •  Do you want your children to endure anxiety as to where they will be living?
  • Do you want your children subjected to interviews with attorneys, mental health professionals and court personnel by whom they may be frightened and feel pressured to be loyal to both their parents?
  • Do you want to risk your children developing emotional problems as a result of your high-conflict custody battle?
  • Do you want your inability to resolve your differences to serve as a model of parenting for your children?
  • Do you want intimate details of your life to become a matter of public record?
  • Do you want a stranger deciding how much you will see your children and how you will make decisions concerning them?
  • Do you want a substantial portion of your assets used for fees of attorneys and expert witnesses with no guarantee that you will be happy with the result?
  • Do you want to give up attention to detail that a negotiated agreement will have but that a judge’s decision will not?
  • Do you want to engage in costly, time-consuming and rancorous litigation that can make future cooperation between you and your co-parent extremely difficult at best, and the resumption of amicable co- parenting nearly impossible?

Please know if you or someone you know is contemplating or is in the midst of a divorce you are not alone.

“It is in the long history of human kind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Charles Darwin