Can I Get a Divorce Without Destroying My Kids?
In previous posts, I have discussed aspects of Collaborative Divorce and Mediation as alternatives to the typical “messy” divorce we hear about from friends and see portrayed in the media. But as a spouse, sometimes your feelings of bitterness, rage, and even hate for your partner—all the emotions that may have led to your divorce—can be overwhelming. Trying to find an amicable way to divorce may be the last thing you even want. On the other hand, as a parent, even if you don’t feel differently, you know that you need to do the best you can for your child or children, to try to prevent your divorce from harming them irreparably.
In this post, I will discuss the effects of divorce on children and talk about how you, a parent, can make better choices for your children if you are planning to or are currently going through divorce from your spouse. I will also provide you, the divorcing parent, with information on options to hopefully prevent harming your child/children as you move through and beyond your divorce.
Effects of Conflict on Children
Outside of domestic violence or sexual assault within the family, the most traumatizing thing for children is conflict between their parents. Children whose parents are going through divorce are therefore at special risk, given the realities of divorce. If the aftermath of divorce continues to be a source of conflict between their parents, children can suffer emotional, physical, and mental damage. The more extreme the conflict, the more extreme the effects on children: both long term and short term. This can include effects on mental health, success and adjustment in school, problems in current and future relationships, and issues with self-esteem and self-concept (a.k.a. how children feel about themselves).
High Conflict Divorces (HCD) are characterized by ongoing conflict and pervasive negative exchanges between ex-partners, combined with an insecure and hostile environment, including blame, hostility, anger, and fixed negative perception by the parents toward each other. Children may see and hear fights and verbal battles and have no way to escape them. If parents involve their children in their conflicts, the effects on children are even more negative. Additionally, parents sharing children may be required to interact with each other post-divorce and cannot “walk away” from the marriage the way spouses without children are able to do. Conflicts can continue long after the divorce, involving issues such as parenting time, pick-ups and drop-offs, joint decision making, who pays what bills for the children, and many other issues.
Studies show children whose parents are involved in HCDs experience higher levels of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many other short- and long-term mental health effects. If either or both parents have mental health issues that have a genetic component, high conflict divorces may cause an aggravation of a child’s preexisting mental health issues. Finally, HCDs can cause already vulnerable children like those on the Autism Spectrum to be harmed as they may be less equipped to deal with conflict and express themselves. Children can show these mental health effects in failing school, in acting out including delinquent behavior, and in failing to make and maintain relationships, among other physical, social, emotional, and psychological consequences.
Is it Conflict or is it Divorce that Harms Kids?
Many studies have shown it is conflict that is the problem, not divorce. Children whose parents divorce with a minimum amount of conflict demonstrate fewer harmful effects than those whose high-conflict parents stay together. This is a really important point: Children whose parents divorce with a minimum amount of conflict demonstrate fewer harmful effects than those whose high-conflict parents stay together. Furthermore, if conflict between the parents continues post-divorce, it also continues to damage children for as long as it is a part of their environment.
In other words, the choices you make as a parent concerning HOW you will divorce are incredibly important to your children.
Options for a Lower Conflict Divorce
There are a variety of ways divorcing spouses can make informed and intentional decisions to avoid HCDs for the sake of their children and themselves. A consultation with a good attorney can help a parent understand all the options for avoiding HCD and the harm it can do their children. Attorneys can negotiate agreed upon divorces and parenting plans if both parents are willing to work together. Collaborative divorce can be used to involve other professionals who can advise divorcing parents on how to do their divorce in the best interests of their children. Mediation is another alternative, and attorneys can guide clients in both presenting their best case to the mediator, and in coming to solutions that work for everyone. People often walk away from these sorts of processes not entirely happy (because you almost never get everything you want), but happy enough.
Finally, attorneys and other professionals like parenting coordinators can help parents work together both during the divorce process and afterward. These professionals understand the effects of divorce on children and can help put together parenting plans with significant detail, which in turn can minimize conflict between the parents. They can also work with the children and the parents to find methods of reducing contact and conflict between the parents, such as only communicating with the other parent via a parenting app such as Talking Parents or Our Family Wizard and agreeing on a process to address future disagreements. Taking co-parenting classes together can be another proactive way to parent after divorce in ways of benefit to your children, and to learn how to address and deal with parental conflict in constructive ways.
When you make a decision to handle your divorce in your child or children’s best interests and do your best to minimize its effect on the most vulnerable individuals involved, you can walk away proud that you overcame all the pain, anger, and bitterness for your children’s sake. Now, you can look forward to a better future for them as you work together with the other parent to co-parent in good and positive ways.
If you are interested in working with attorneys to minimize HCDs and protect your children from the potentially harmful effects of divorce, email us at email@example.com, or give us a call at 425-776-4100.