YOU ARE THE ADULTS – KEEP THE KIDS OUT OF YOUR DISPUTE … PLEASE!

Mister Rogers (talking to a young boy whose parents are going through a divorce):
“I think one of the toughest things for children is for their parents not to be getting along, and so divorce feels like it’s just ripping a piece of cloth apart, and for children to try to understand that is sometimes way beyond their capacities.  So you really need somebody to help you know that both your mother and your dad love you.  It wasn’t your fault that your mom and dad don’t live together, and it won’t be your fault if they get a divorce.  As a matter of fact, you are probably one of the best things that has ever happened to your mom and your dad.  And they’ll love you as long as they live – and even longer.  But for a little child to have a mom and dad that don’t like each other, it’s very important for you to know that they still love you.”*
A divorce can be devastating for a child.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Studies show that where the parents keep the children out of the middle of their dispute, and where they are able to find a way to co-parent (in spite of their differences), then the children will likely turn out just fine.  However, this is easier said than done.  When a relationship falls apart, it is a difficult and emotional time, even for the strongest and best of us.  Fear, sadness, and anger are human emotions, and to struggle with these feelings during a divorce or separation is normal and natural.  But remember that while you, as an adult, are able to make sense of the situation and understand your feelings – a child (even a teenager) is not capable of doing so.  He or she is helpless, confused, and scared.  A child is likely to feel that the problem is, somehow, his or her fault, and often those confused feelings and a deep sense of hurt will result in defiant behavior.  Or worse.  Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ dispute can sometimes turn that anger and defiance inward, which may cause them to think or act in self-destructive ways.
While in the midst of a crumbing relationship, it is easy for even the most loving, caring parent to be temporarily blinded by fear and anger.  Arguing in front of the children, talking bad about the other parent in their presence, sharing inappropriate information about parental problems or a divorce case, forcing children to choose between parents, demonstrating violence – these are all things that can occur during a difficult divorce or separation.  But you, as a parent, must understand that this type of behavior can have long-term negative consequences for the children.  In fact, it can cause irreparable damage and change the course of their lives.  So, what can you do to prevent that from happening?
HOW TO KEEP CHILDREN SAFE AND SECURE
As difficult as it might be during this time of extreme stress, it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that you are the adult – you are the parent – and it is your responsibility to protect the best interests of your child.  Obviously, pretending that nothing is wrong is not the answer.  That would be dishonest and not-at-all helpful.  Your child knows that something is wrong.  Most experts will tell you that the best approach is to talk to the child in a reassuring and age-appropriate way.  The key is to let the child know:  “This is not your fault.  We are your parents and, even though we are having some grown-up problems right now, we both love you and we will always be there to take care of you.”  This is a message that every child needs to hear.  It provides a sense of protection and stability that will help the child to get through this difficult experience.
But what do you do if the other parent is incapable of protecting the child and keeping him or her out of the middle of the dispute?  Answer:  Then you be the adult.  Studies show that as long as there is one stable, responsible parent who is protecting the needs of the child, then that child will likely turn out fine.  You can be that parent.  It is difficult, I know, but somebody has to take on that role – so it might as well be you.
HELP IS OUT THERE
For a parent going through a difficult divorce, separation, or custody case, please be assured that there are places you can turn for assistance and support.  Therapeutic counseling, for you and/or the children, is often extremely helpful.  For a parent facing an acrimonious split, it can feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever experienced such a thing.  But a good therapist has helped hundreds or thousands of families with similar problems, and he or she has developed a broad range of solutions that can help you, too.  Your church or synagogue can be an enormous source of support.  And there are many divorce support groups out there with people who are going through the same thing that you are now.  Through these groups, you can receive not only ideas and support, but you may also develop lasting friendships.  If your child is having problems, it might be helpful to notify the school and let them know that the family is going through a separation or divorce.  An understanding teacher or administrator can be very supportive, and many schools have psychologists who can counsel the child at no cost to you.
HOW TO AVOID FUTURE PROBLEMS
I am a big believer in counseling during – and after – a divorce.  I often recommend “Post-Divorce Counseling” for my clients.  Co-parenting after a divorce can be a new and sometimes challenging experience.  There will be times when your child is spending extended periods of time with the other parent and, while you were able to be there to supervise when you were living together, you will now be unable to intervene or even know what is happening in the other parent’s home.  This can cause the fear and stress level to intensify, which can lead to anger and miscommunication.  The best remedy, in my opinion, is “Post-Divorce Counseling.”  This is where the parents meet with a counselor on a regular basis – maybe every 6 months or every year – to discuss issues regarding the children, and to make sure that the parents are “on the same page.”  I have found that this type of counseling can help parents feel confident that they are being heard and that the children’s needs are being addressed.  It also helps the parents avoid future disputes — an all-to-common problem that often results in more trips to the courthouse, which can be time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and destructive.   
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE OK
So, there is a reason to be optimistic.  Being the child of divorced parents is no longer a stigma.  Today, it is the norm.  If you will just make the effort to assure your children that they are loved, and that their parents will be always be there for them (even if the parents are no longer living together), then it is likely that the children will grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.  If you are able to co-parent, or at least keep the children out of the middle of any disputes, then their future looks bright, indeed.

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting issues in Family Court.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, or any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

* From the book “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth

TEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING YOUR DIVORCE — AND THRIVING

This year is coming to a close.   If you are in the middle of a divorce – or if you are getting ready to go through one – the next twelve months could be tough.  So, here are some simple guidelines to make the journey less difficult.

1.   Keep your children out of the middle of your dispute

Research shows that children of divorce can grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.  However, the research also shows that children of high-conflict divorces can develop emotional problems that last a lifetime.  It can be devastating for a child to be caught in the middle of a dispute between parents.  You love your children.  That’s a given.  But loving your children is not enough.  You need to protect them from the emotional turmoil that you, as parents, may be going through.  This is an enormous challenge.  The key is to keep the children out of the middle of your dispute.  Don’t use them as messengers.  Don’t make them witness angry arguments between the parents.  Let them know the divorce is not their fault, and that both parents will continue to love them and take care of them, even after the divorce.

2.            Allow your child to love the other parent

When a marriage comes apart and emotions are at a boiling point, it is easy for a parent to make the mistake of voicing his or her displeasure with the other parent to the children.  Sometimes this leads to a war of words, with each parent feeling the need to “defend” himself / herself by badmouthing the other.  But here’s a warning:  Clinical research shows that this type of behavior can cause serious emotional problems for children.  They need to be able to love both of their parents.  So give them your permission.  You would probably place your life on the line to protect your children from a stranger who tried to hurt them.  Then why wouldn’t you make every effort to protect your children from your own anger and toxic feelings toward their other parent?    

3.            Don’t give your child too much information 


Of course, it is important to be honest with your children – but giving them information that is not age-appropriate, or talking to them about details of your divorce that they are incapable of emotionally processing, can be harmful and destructive.   Don’t talk to your children about the legal issues of your divorce.  Don’t show them your court paperwork.  Don’t share adult information with young children.  If you need to vent or get your feelings off your chest, turn to a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist.  Keep your children out of the loop.  Let them be children.    

4.            Try to be flexible 

Parenting-time disputes can be the cause of much stress, especially during the holidays.  You can save yourself a lot of grief by trying to be flexible.  Being flexible is not a sign of weakness.  It sends a message that you are willing to compromise.  Extending an olive branch often leads to the other parenting being willing to compromise, too.  Parents who refuse to be flexible can find themselves locked in a never-ending battle; and instead of being able to solve their own problems they tend to return to court over-and-over again, putting their fate in the hands of lawyers and judges. 

 

5.            Don’t rely on “legal advice” from your friends 

Don’t believe everything your hear, especially when it comes from a friend or family member who is trying to give you advice about legal matters.  Everyone knows a friend whose own divorce was a nightmare and promises that your outcome will be terrible, too; or one who insists that your judge will give you everything you want because your custody case is a “slam-dunk.”  Receiving legal advice from a friend or family member can be a huge mistake, since tends to give you false expectations.  If you want good, solid legal advice about your divorce or custody case, talk to a lawyer who specializes in Family Law.

 
6.            Choose a lawyer wisely 


One of the most important decisions you will ever make is finding the right attorney.   Many people who are embroiled in a family law dispute say, “I’m going to hire the meanest, most aggressive, attorney I can find.”   That usually works – for the lawyer.  If the lawyer is only mean, or only aggressive, then the result will probably be a long, contentious, and expensive litigation.  That means more money for the lawyer.  Your money!  What you really want is a highly qualified attorney, one who is looking out for your interests.  The best attorney is someone who is skilled and experienced; someone who will fight for your rights — but who is also looking for ways to resolve the matter peacefully, if at all possible.  Most importantly, you should select an attorney who is a good match for you, and who makes you feel comfortable and confident.

 

7.            Be willing to compromise


Court litigation is, by nature, an adversarial process.  It can take a long time and cost a lot of money – and in the end, the final decision will be made by a judge who is a stranger to both parties.   Therefore, in any divorce or custody litigation, your goal should be to negotiate a solution that meets your needs and the needs of the children.  You can save yourself a great deal of time and money, and avoid much stress, by being willing to make reasonable compromises.  People who are able to negotiate a fair resolution of their dispute tend to be much happier with the arrangement in the long run.


8.            Talk to someone you can trust


A person going through the turmoil of divorce or custody case can benefit from a strong support system.  If you are struggling with a divorce, or if you are caught in a highly contested custody case, find someone to talk to. Whether it is with a family member, a friend, someone from your church, or a therapist, talking about your feelings is a healthy outlet.   There are also many divorce and single-parent support groups in your community that will welcome you and help you understand that you are not alone.  

9.            Take care of yourself

You can’t take proper care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.  So take time to exercise.  Join a yoga class.  Meet a friend for dinner.  Or just spend some “down-time” relaxing at home. — Good nutrition, vigorous exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation, lots of love and laughter — these are the keys to surviving a divorce and thriving.  Taking care of yourself will help you get through this tough time in your life.  It’s a wise investment.

 

10.         Know that there is life after divorce


It may not seem like it now, but rest assured that there is, indeed, life after divorce – and it can be great.  It will certainly be an adjustment, and it will take a commitment on your part, but getting out of an unhappy marriage, making new friends, and taking control of your physical and mental health, can give you a new perspective and lead to a happier life.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

 

The law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. offers strong advocacy for clients involved in all areas of Family Law, including disputes involving divorce, custody (legal decision-making), parenting time, interstate custody or visitation, grandparent and non-parent custody and visitation, division of property and businesses, spousal and child support, modification of existing orders, enforcement of orders, relocation / move-away cases, paternity, guardianships, and other matters involving children and families.  Gary Frank is also an experienced Family Law Mediator who can help you resolve your dispute without the need for fighting in court.  With more than thirty years of experience as a courtroom litigator, as well as a mediator and a former Judge Pro Tem, Mr. Frank brings skill, compassion, and a depth of understanding to each matter he handles, and each client that he represents.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona, and we have satellite office in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley to more conveniently serve our clients.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also check us out on our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.