Custody Battle Myth #3: "If the adults act well, the kids will be fine."

This is the third of the eight myths that parents David and Laura Sherwood voice in #TalktoStrangersFilm to rationalize their custody litigation. They both express confidence in their ability to protect their children, 12-year-old Emily and 9-year-olds Nicholas (02:45) from emotional harm.

In fact, David doesn’t consider the custody litigation a “battle” (03:02). As the story develops, however, we see how the custody evaluation process itself takes a toll on children. Even where parents are not overly antagonistic toward each other, the custody evaluation process itself can humiliate, frighten and compromise kids.

Obviously, we’d prefer to see even parents litigating custody or access try to shield their kids from their antagonism, and to agree upon what information to share with the kids in order to keep the kids’ anxiety somewhat under control. The Sherwoods fit this description; it’s just that their thinking, based on their belief in the myths of custody litigation, is misguided. So, parents acting “well” in the context of ongoing custody/access litigation is no guarantee that children will not be on the road to emotional harm, as Emily and Nicky may well be.

One could argue that no parent who unnecessarily subjects children to the custody process is acting properly. Unfortunately, this too describes the Sherwoods, whose issue is whether physical custody will be shared equally (David’s position) or divided in a more “traditional” way, with the kids living primarily with Laura. This issue is one that can be fairly easily settled, and thus should be. Neither the film nor its accompanying parents’ guide are intended to address situations where court intervention is necessary, such as where there is abuse or parents with untreated emotional or addiction issues.

We also want the professionals involved to exhibit sensitivity to the plight of the children and to their vulnerabilities. In the film we see an attorney for the minor children, a court-appointed evaluating psychologist and a Court Services Officer, all of whom acquit themselves well. But again, adults acting well will not ensure that children won’t be harmed by the process.

Whether or not the custody litigation is considered a “battle,” children are its casualties.

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