Your Children – Should They Be Involved in Your Divorce?
February 16th, 2012
The most important thing to understand as a parent going through a divorce is not to involve your children. No matter what the ages of your children, they should be left out of the divorce process to whatever extent possible.
Children will be more or less aware of what is transpiring depending on their age. A 12 year old might ask questions that a 3 year old would not think about. Do answer their questions briefly and in an age appropriate manner, but most importantly, assure them that both of their parents love them. Parents must recognize that the divorce is between them, and that their children are innocent bystanders, not active participants.
Unfortunately, what frequently happens is that both parents become so embroiled in the emotion of the divorce process that they temporarily lose the ability to focus on what is best for their children. At times, parents will speak of adult matters either directly to or in the presence of their children. Sometimes parents will use their children as pawns to try to “get back” at the other parent, without realizing the harm that they are causing the child.
Frequently a parent will badmouth the other parent either directly to the children or in their presence. For example:
“Your mother is taking all my money. I will be stuck living in my car.”
“Your father is not giving me enough money. Ask HIM to buy you sneakers. I can’t afford them.”
Regardless of how accurate these statements are or may seem to be, they should not be expressed to the children. Likewise, if you have learned that your spouse has a “significant other”, this subject should not be discussed with the children.
In extreme circumstances, parental alienation can occur. This happens when one parent engages in a course of conduct that turns a child against the other parent. The child then aligns him or herself with one parent against the other. The child may refuse contact with the other parent, shutting him or her out of the their life to the point that the relationship deteriorates substantially. Allegations of parent alienation are difficult to prove as it is not easy to determine whether the child’s conduct is a direct result of parental alienation, or simply a result of the stressors that the child is experiencing during the divorce process.
It is also important to shield the children from court proceedings. There is no reason that they should know what happened during your court appearance. Some parents are of the belief that their children “deserve to know the truth” about the other parent. It is important to remember that each parent has his or her own truth, and the child should not be asked to decide which truth to believe.
Children have the right to love both their parents. No matter what is going on in the divorce process the children almost always need both parents in their lives. (An exception may exist if the children have been subject to abuse.) No parent should ever lead a child to believe that he or she must choose one parent over another, nor should a child be made to feel guilty about having a positive relationship with either parent.
Remember, when going through the divorce process, try to put aside the difficult and emotional nature of the process enough so that you can put the needs of your children first:
- – Do not bad mouth your spouse directly to the children or in their presence.
- – Do not talk to your children about financial problems as a result of the divorce.
- – Do not make your children feel guilty about enjoying a relationship with the other parent.
- – Love your children and let them love both of you.
By Debra L. Rubin, Esq.