Minefields for Warring Parents
Most parents going through a custody dispute want what is best for their children… but do they know how to get there? The stress of having to deal with family court, child support, perhaps a custody battle… it can leave you depleted. It can leave you emotionally exhausted. It can lead you to act in ways which are NOT typical for you and which are NOT in the best interests of the children. Here are some areas to pay attention to:
(1) Custody exchanges – Except in rare circumstances where parents are able to truly put their personal animosity aside, you should aim for the fewest number of child exchanges. I have had well-intentioned clients suggest that the parties should have shared custody on a 2-2-3 basis. From my perspective, this is a recipe for disaster. Not only is it difficult on the children to have so many exchanges, but it simply results in more opportunity for parental conflict (which will take place in front of the children).
Solution – Minimize child exchanges. For shared parenting arrangements, use a week-about schedule. Arriving on time will lessen stress and parental conflict. Consider having exchanges take place at school at the start or end of a school day.
(2) Persistent/constant calling or texting between the child(ren) and the non-resident parent – While everyone wants to be in contact with their children when the kids are not at home, is this really best for the children….or is it just what is best for you? Children need and want uninterrupted time with each parent. By the way….you also need time away from the kids!
Solution – create a communication schedule (perhaps once per day) and stick to it! The call should be at a time which does not interfere with the other parent’s routine. Do not discuss the other parent with the child(ren).
(3) Placing the child(ren) in the middle to pass messages or help settle disputes – I know this is tempting but…just don’t do it! Using children to pass messages to the other parent is damaging to their self-worth. Placing them in the middle will result in the child(ren) recoiling from you..which is the opposite of what you want to achieve.
Solution – If you are angry, sad, or full of grief, seek therapy. Bring your child(ren) to the therapy sessions if this is what the therapist suggests. The therapist will help you to establish boundaries regarding the parent-child roles.
(4) Using social media to shame the other parent – children (especially teenagers) are already vulnerable, having to find their way through puberty, peer pressure and the fall out from social media. Having to navigate the emotional turmoil of divorce exacerbates this. The last thing your child(ren) need to see (or hear about) is their parents warring on social media. Making negative comments about the other parent is obviously destructive to children. However, seemingly innocuous posts can also cause damage. For example, the parent who posts pictures of her new boyfriend on her Facebook page needs to think long and hard about how those posts will be internalized by her children.
Solution – unfollow your ex-spouse on social media out of privacy and respect. Don’t post anything about your ex-spouse. Ask your close friends and family to refrain from posting about your family and to restrict any negative talk about your ex. Think long and hard about posting about your “new life”.
There are, of course, a myriad of other issues that creep into custody battles and parenting after divorce. I have highlighted just a few. An experienced therapist will be able to assist you to navigate these issues while your family law lawyer will help you tackle the legal issues.