4 Ways To Protect Your Children From A Bitter Divorce

The idea of “winning” in family court is a fallacy.  There are no “winners” and the only losers are your children.  Plain and simple.   

       Unfortunately, the win-lose mentality is perpetuated by the litigation process.  One parent is the “Plaintiff” and the other is the “Defendant.”  Your children are referred to as “the custody and parenting time issues” and “dependency exemptions.”

          I know what I’m talking about.  At 13 years old, I was pulled into the bitter divorce war between my parents.  When I say “bitter”, I’m talking about “War of the Roses” style, flying dishes and everything.  The one saving grace was that the nightly screaming arguments finally ended when my father moved out. 

       Sadly, children caught in the bitter divorce of their parents often don’t know how to have a healthy relationship.  How could they?  They have no model to guide them.  They tend to be reluctant to marry for fear of “ending up like their parents.” 

       After practicing divorce law for 18 years, I’ve also seen what children go through.  One client had to bring her teenage daughter to the emergency room with severe headaches and other symptoms of anxiety that included dizziness and heart palpitations.  Another was physically attacked by her 16-year-old daughter after believing the awful things that her father told her about her mother.  There are so many more of these sad instances.  As Civil War General William T. Sherman now famously proclaimed, “War is hell.”

       Keep these long-term damaging effects in mind as you approach the divorce process so that you make decisions that prevent or minimize emotional damage for your children.  Here are 4 ways:

1.  Approach your children with your spouse to tell them together what they might expect and assure them of your love.  This is something that they’ll always remember and from which they will derive a huge emotional benefit.

2.   Choose your divorce lawyer wisely.  Avoid lawyers who promote themselves as “aggressive” or promise guaranteed results.  They might also appear not to listen intently to your concerns and questions (you may have many). 

            Your lawyer’s role is to advocate for your interests while fully advising you of your options, especially those that don’t involve the court.  Unfortunately, lawyers who are not settlement-oriented make their living by advocating for and pursuing litigation.  So choose wisely to assure that the interests of your lawyer are aligned as much as possible with yours.

            Here’s an example.  I recently represented the wife in a divorce action.  Throughout the course of the marriage, the husband’s successful business supported them and their 3 children, who were now grown.  The wife knew that her husband had misrepresented his income and assets but was unable to prove it by virtue of her limited financial means. 

            In the midst of acrimonious litigation, the husband’s lawyer challenged my client and me to go to trial if she refused to accept the income and assets he claimed to have.  Both the husband and his lawyer knew that she didn’t have the financial ability to pay the huge fees involved in a trial, yet he and his lawyer pressed on, subpoenaing her financial statements and submitting a hefty trial brief to the court.  Ultimately, to avoid an imminent trial, the wife voluntarily accepted an “agreement” essentially on the husband’s terms. 

            Did the husband really “win?”  The children, now adults with their own families, saw what their father did to their mother and isolated him from their own families, including a newborn grandson who he has yet to see.

            This could have played out much differently if the husband respected that his wife would always be the mother of their 3 children.  He might have refrained from hurting her both financially and emotionally, especially when he was so financially secure.  They might have gone on to enjoy a peaceful co-parenting and co-grandparenting relationship.

3.    Educate yourself with key resources.  Often, though not always, a lawyer’s expertise is restricted to the domain of law.  It can be helpful to work with a therapist who specializes in divorce to help identify what your child needs during this difficult time.

4.   Model respect and communication for your spouse.  Children generally learn by what they see and experience.   As difficult as it might be, respecting your child’s other parent shows your children that you respect them as well.  Remember that you will both be connected through your children for the rest of your lives.

   As always, feel free to call or schedule an appointment to learn more about how to protect your children during divorce.  

 

 

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