Thursday, April 3, 2014

A recipe for co-parenting when divorced

These days I am getting a steady flow of referrals from a new family court judge.  He'll order that a child's parents both submit to psychological evaluations and then he'll order a "Best Interest of the Child" report.  The judge often orders these evaluations during custody battles and/or if one is accusing the other of something (he is molesting our kid, she is a drug addict, he talks to himself and I think he has Schizophrenia, for real examples).

I have come to the conclusion that divorcing persons who have children should go through a mandatory training. How your divorce affects your child.  In fact, I would offer the service for free and think of it as an investment in the mental health of the very large number of children who are being raised by divorced (or split up) parents. The statistics are awful.  Children with divorced parents suffer and don't stop suffering.

There is a caveat to this.  All children with divorced parents are not created equal.

What I should really say is that not all divorced co-parents are created equal.

The recipe isn't all that complicated.  If parents want to have their children beat the odds and do what they can to prevent their children from suffering from depression, anxiety and/or difficulties in interpersonal relationships. . .

Here is the recipe (feel free to suggest more rules):

1. Do not talk negatively about your co-parent in front of your child.  You child needs to feel the freedom to love both of his parents.  By putting down your co-parent you are putting down your child.  After all, he is part of both of you (yes, even if the child is adopted).

2. Do not discuss money matters related to parenting expenses in front of your child.

3.  Do not argue in front of your child.  I mean not in person, not on the phone, and not via text.  Chances are she will be curious and look over your shoulder to read texts back and forth between her parents.

4. Make major parenting decisions together.  Don't let your child see that she can go to one parent over the other when she wants something.  Even when divorced, that same boundary and need for a unified front is still really important.

5.  Do not have new boyfriends or girlfriends come in and out of your home.  Children will have feelings about the people their parents are seeing.  They often attach to new significant others, especially if he or she is making you happy.  A child has lost enough having to adjust to their parents breaking up.  Try really hard not to have that trauma replayed for the child.  Wait until you are as sure as you can be that the relationship you are in is a keeper.

6. Do not use your child as a pawn.  So many divorces end with rage.  Some parents can be so focused on their need to hurt their co-parent that they forget about how it is affecting their child.  Your relationship with your co-parent may have ended but your child still has  relationships with both parents.  Don't make him choose sides.

7.  Allow your child to have a voice.  I have seen so many court papers describing, in excruciating detail, what the custody agreement is and what the visitation schedule should be.  In the case of my last TWO custody evaluations, parents exchange the child from one to the other at a police station. Some children don't want to miss Christmas (example from today actually) at mom's house every other year.  He may really, really want to have the holiday split, Christmas eve with one and Christmas day with the other. He may want this because dad has no relatives in the country and he really enjoys the big family Christmas he can have at his mom's house.  You may find that really inconvenient but let your child call some of the shots.  Otherwise, he is powerless.  You know what happens to powerless children?  They either internalize their feelings and act in (aka get depressed) or they look for other ways to get some power and start acting out.

Ok, now I have too many more and I wrote it was a simple recipe.  I'll stop here.


  1. Massachusetts has a mandatory course for divorcing parents who cannot get a hearing scheduled without proof of completion. I taught one of these courses and absolutely agree that they should be mandatory.

  2. Any chance you still have the course materials? I am researching now to see if a course like this is available by me.

  3. I see it is law in our state too . I haven't seen any recently divorced folks though. I wonder if it's enforced and how long it's been law.

  4. Children do go through an unnecessary amount of suffering during a divorce because the parents are acting out instead of being considerate. A course would be an excellent idea to encourage parents to make better choices for the benefit of the kids.

  5. Contact Jewish Family service in Worcester. We had bought a license to use material from some agency in Atlanta but don't remember which one..

  6. I am a divorce lawyer. May I print this out and share it with my clients?

    I see so many cases where the children are clearly caught in the middle between warring parents. These parents see it as asserting themselves and pushing back against an ex. They don't see that their child is simply being hit from both sides.

    Any ideas on how to explain, in really simple language, to parents exactly what they should and shouldn't be doing, and why? It never ceases to amaze me how many parents can agree not to make disparaging remarks about the other parent - and then go on to do exactly that.

  7. Law mom, I write to share, please feel free to share :) If the above is not plain enough language (is it not intuitive?) you or they can do a simple google search to read research findings in studies on children of divorce. The post I wrote may be my words and my way of explaining things but the internet has the same information in other people's words all over the place.

  8. What advice would you give when domestic violence is present?

  9. Ruth, I am not sure what exactly you are asking, but I couldn't really answer that question without knowing whether the child was a victim of dv, the child is continuing to be around (or at risk) dv and how the child feels around the violent parent(s).

    Regardless however, the above advice generally stands. Parents end up in my office, in substance abuse treatment, in anger management skills training, in parenting classes all due to court decisions. Problems between the grown-ups, concerns about how the other is raising the child should involve adults only, their lawyers and their judge. If there is a need for the child to be involved in the process it will be through the court sending the child for an evaluation.

    However, if you find out that something you are concerned about is happening to your child, you advocate for your child in every way you can.If that includes filing a police report or a restraining order, you do that. If it's about safety it has to be done. I would still suggest protecting children from as much of the mud slinging as possible.

    My daughter will never hear me bad mouth her biological family unless it somehow would be necessary to maintain her safety.

  10. Thanks for the guidelines for co-parenting. It seems the list would be equally good for married couples too. I do think the arguing in particular can be harmful to children. I have seen this especially in the foster youth that I work with. Thanks for the list. Luke

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  12. This is great information. Is it okay if I share it on my blog, with it redirecting back to you? My husband and I just became foster parents and received our first call. We're super excited! Thanks for sharing...

  13. Congratulation Living for Today! I hope all goes as smoothly as possible! Feel free to repost anything that you think you think would be of interest to your readers. This post seemed to resonate with people, it made its way around facebook for a while.


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