Editor’s note: We are pleased today to feature a guest article from Alan Brady on advice for parents on handling custody disputes in a way which decreases the impact on kids. Although Divorce Ministry 4 Kids is not a legal site, it is important that we remember that divorce is a legal process. As people who care for and minister to kids, we must understand that legal process at least a little bit and be in a position to offer advice to parents on ways they can help to alleviate some of the stress of divorce on their kids. Child custody is one such area, and we are grateful to Alan for his insight. As indicated in the author information below, Alan is a writer for Attorney.com, and he has included a link to that site in this article. While we are happy to let Alan link to this site and hope it may be of assistance to some people, Divorce Ministry 4 Kids does not specifically endorse any sites linked to by guest authors.
Ending a marriage can be a difficult and ugly thing for everyone involved, but it is still the responsibility of all parents to make every effort to minimize the trauma the divorce causes for their children. Unfortunately, it is all too common for adults who are angry, sad, and/or hurt to become so consumed with their own feelings that they forget about, or overlook, those of their children.
Child Custody – What is it and how does it work?
Divorce is difficult in any circumstances, as no one enters a marriage with the vows, ‘until it gets too hard.’ When children are involved, things get much more complicated. Deciding how much time the kids will spend with each parent, which household will be their primary residence, and who has final say on the important decisions that impact their lives is a delicate process, and one that usually has to involve the courts.
In cases that have to be litigated in a courtroom, the judge will be the person who makes the final decision regarding all of these issues. If parents are able to work through a mediator instead, they will be in control of the outcome, and as long as they are able to agree and to abide by their own decision, the courts won’t have to be involved. Unfortunately, the bitterness and anger that divorcing adults feel often forms an obstacle that keeps them from placing the best interests of their children over their own desire to punish the person who betrayed them.
When the time comes to make difficult decisions about custody and childrearing, this advice should help parents remember to make the long-term best interests of their children their top priority, as it should be.
So, how can parents help to minimize the impact and stress of divorce on their children when it comes to child custody issues?
Bring in a neutral party
Every parent believes that they are the person best qualified to make decisions about their child. However, in the case of a divorce that may or may not be true, and at the very least there are often two competing ideas about what is “best” for the child. Anger and resentment that have built up over the years can make it easy to forget the difference between your ex as a spouse and as a parent. The fact that you have decided that you no longer want you’re your ex as a husband or wife in your life may overwhelm the knowledge that your children still need both of their parents.
Involving a disinterested third party can help to ensure that everyone is represented, especially the child or children whose futures hang in the balance. There are a couple of options when it comes to disinterested third parties. A qualified mediator is someone who is trained to deal with disputes, who has education and vast experience with these specific situations. This person will facilitate a conversation instead of a fight while working for the best interests of the child. One online service that can help you to find such a mediator is Peace Talks.
A child custody lawyer can help parents to protect their parental rights and navigate any legal steps that are required. The site I write for is called Attorneys.com. One of the services provided by the site is to help parents link up with the appropriate lawyer.
Let go of the anger
Whatever led to the end of the marriage, once you have separated and begun the process of divorce, the time for anger has passed. It may not be easy, but try to remember that carrying around impotent anger is unhealthy and unproductive, and if you have children you will have to continue to be a part of each other’s lives.
Divorce ends marriage, it doesn’t end families! Try to put aside your feelings about your ex’s failings as a spouse and focus on their importance as a parent. A bad husband can still be a good father, and long-term separation from either parent is almost never in the best interests of any child, except, of course in cases of abuse. Trying to keep a child from either of their parents when their own safety isn’t a concern is cruel and selfish, and overcoming the level of anger that blinds a parent to the pain they’re causing their child is difficult, but absolutely worth doing.
In many cases, divorced parents avoid contact with each other as much as possible, thinking that if they see each other they’ll fight and that isn’t good for their children. While seeing their parents fight is definitely traumatic, feeling like their family has broken is much worse. Putting aside the anger that you feel toward each other to spend time together as a family will be comforting and therapeutic for a child who feels that his or her world has splintered. After all, making your child feel secure and loved should be more important than a spiteful exchange about a past mistake.
Alan Brady is a freelance writer who focuses on issues that affect families. He began to educate himself about divorce and its effects on children after realizing that the fact that he and his wife were still together put his own daughter in the minority among her peers. He lives in Idaho with his beautiful wife and currently writes for Attorneys.com, which helps to connect people with the legal representation they need.