Divorcing parents promote their children’s well-being by retooling their co-parenting relationship early in the divorce process. Adding new ground rules to old shared values redirects parents’ focus from their own conflict to the children’s needs. It also creates momentum for a long-term parenting plan and a co-parenting relationship that produces healthier children.
Here are a dozen Parenting Goal Statement staples:
➢ We will shield our children from our conflict.
➢ We will not use our children as messengers or confidants.
➢ We will not put our children in the position of “choosing sides.”
But there may be more to it than that. I believe that custody battles are so damaging because they deprive children of the very things they need most during divorce.
A “Top 4 List” of children’s needs during divorce would read something like this:
- An end to their parents’ fighting
- An end to uncertainty about where and with whom they will be living
- A return to some degree of normalcy in their lives
This is the first of eight child custody myths articulated by parents David and Laura Sherwood in the film Talk to Strangers.
“We do a pretty good job of insulating our kids,” Laura asserts two minutes into the film. Later on, we see Laura make good on that commitment: “You know we don’t talk to you kids about the case!” she declares, cutting off a conversation with her daughter Emily.
Like each of the 8 myths presented in Talk to Strangers, this one sounds reasonable enough… until we view it from the children’s perspective. Consider, for example, Emily’s dismay when she learns that not only can’t she discuss custody issues with her parents, but she won’t be allowed to voice her preferences to the judge either.
Most parents continue to co-parent their children after divorce. Absent circumstances where children are at risk, parents have the responsibility to put the their children first by working out a parenting plan that is in the children’s interests.
If you are unable to resolve children’s issues with your co-parent, a judge will. There are a number of reasons to avoid that:
➢ The custody evaluation process can humiliate, frighten and compromise your children, and cause them enduring emotional harm.
My worst nightmare as a divorce lawyer is that thousands of children are growing up wondering why the “grown-ups” didn’t protect them from their parents’ high conflict divorces. That’s why I produced Talk to Strangers. But long before that, I put together ten questions to ask any of my clients who were considering a custody battle.
If it’s your co-parent who seems intent on fighting over the kids, see if he or she has answers for the following:
1. Do you want your children to endure months of anxiety and uncertainty as to where they will be living and whether they will have the relationship they want with each of their parents and their siblings?