What’s there to say when your child asks why you got divorced? The best way to help your kids deal with a divorce: don’t tell them the truth.
😢 PSYCHOLOGICAL BACKGROUND
A divorce is one of the most challenging things in an adult’s life, it’s the end of a long marriage. Trust me, no one gets married thinking they will one day have to deal with divorce, equitable distribution, custody and visitation and shuttling kids back and forth for alternating holidays. That thought is horrible for any grown-up. Nobody gets divorced without wondering, “how do I deal with my kids during the divorce process?” You are not alone. Many parents feel overwhelmed and afraid of the process that lies ahead, especially when they don’t know where to begin. Divorce can be extremely complicated with so many different factors to consider, but it doesn’t need to be an impossible situation. Your children will learn valuable life skills from going through a divorce as well as being exposed to new ideas about how relationships work and how you perceive yourself in relation to others throughout your life journey.
Now, imagine you are a child and your parents just told you they are getting divorced. A parents’ divorce changes the child’s life in an irreversible way. Their life will never be the same, I tell you this as a divorce lawyer and a divorced mom of 3 girls. They are forever going to be the “child of a divorce.” It’s crucial make sure your kids don’t feel a sense of guilt during this divorce process. Divorcees can still have significant authority over their children’s upbringing and retain important roles in their children’s lives such as through financial management, decision-making and providing emotional support.
The parents’ divorce is like the death of a close relative. It’s a realization that your parents are having issues. It’s a realization that your parents are NOT perfect. It’s the time in the child’s life when they think it’s THEIR fault the parents cannot stay together. It’s a time of anxiety and worries for a child, new rules, and new way of thinking about mom, dad, their new significant others, future reality of having half-siblings and their parents marrying other people. It’s overwhelming for everyone.
The myth that you want to omit from your kids’ brains is that the parents would have stayed together if their child hadn’t been born, or that it’s their fault. It is common for children to feel responsible for the parents’ divorce, which creates a rift in the relationship between parent and child that opens up old wounds and creates new ones. One of the thoughts that can come with this feeling of responsibility is “if they had not had me, they would have stayed together.” This thought process also leads to behaviors such as shutting down or withdrawing from relationships with others because one feels like there is something wrong with them or thinking it’s their own fault.
Now, on top of all this, do you want to tell the child that one of their parents had an affair, or put their career before the kids and the family, or tell them the abuse got too much to take? From the psychological point of view, this destroys the child’s previously unshaken belief that mom and dad are perfect and will always be together. If mom and dad who were supposed to stay together forever cannot, what other things that the kid previously thought were set in stone, can fall apart just like that? If the child is too young to understand what an affair is, this is not the time to explain and potentially normalize that behavior. That’s a lot of stress for little kids at such a young age. This has nothing to do with whether or not it was “her fault” or “his fault,” and everything to do with protecting the child from making their relationship with either parent more difficult.
There are also LEGAL reasons why you can’t tell the child the real reasons for your divorce (infidelity, abuse, etc.). Parental Alienation or Alienation of Parental Affection is the first reason. Parental alienation is when one parent trash-talks the other to ruin the other parent’s relationship with the joint children. It’s one way to extract revenge on the other parent by making their child distrust and hate them. Divorce will be difficult for the child. It’s not in your best interests to tell them to make it more truthful, rather, make it easier for them.
The other reason is that the child may not want to go to the “at-fault” parent for visitation as the court may mandate and put the judge in a difficult position of choosing what the child wants or does not want to do (does not want to visit the “cheating dad” for example), in favor of both parents’ equal rights to the time and affection of their children.
If the parents are already divorced or there is a custody, visitation and parenting plan in place that became the judgment of the court, one parent’s actions to create alienation of parental affection of the other is considered contempt of court and may carry sanctions and give the court a reason to modify the custody arrangement in favor of the suffering parent.
Parental alienation is the process where one parent intentionally and maliciously turns the child against the other parent. Parental alienation may include:
- Revealing the real reasons for the divorce/separation to the child
- Implicating the other parent in abuse of the child Using guilt, blame and threats to alienate from the other parent
- Attempts to control the child’s contact with the other parentInterfering with access
- Violations of rights of the other parent (for example by denying visitation, restricting contact)
- Threatening to take custody or use law enforcement resources in order to cause separation
- Refusing to be flexible with visitation for the other parent
- When it comes to visitation rights, it’s important to remember that both parents should have equal access to the child. Refusing to be flexible with visitation for the other parent can be damaging not only for the relationship between the two parents but also for the wellbeing of the child. It is important to strive for a mutually beneficial arrangement that works for both parties and allows them to see their child as much as possible.
- Bad mouthing the other parent to the children.
- It’s never a good idea to badmouth the other parent to the children. Doing so can create conflict and distance between parents and their kids, as well as damage the relationship between them. Instead, encourage your children to talk openly about their feelings and work together to come up with a solution that’s best for everyone.
- Allowing family members to bad-mouth the other parent
- Having a parent bad-mouth the other can be damaging to children and their family relationships. It can create feelings of guilt, confusion, and hurt in the child as they try to reconcile the negative comments with their own positive experiences. Therefore, it is important for parents to be aware of how their words may affect their children and refrain from saying negative things about the other parent.
- Denying the other parent access to educational, medical and other type of documentation and records.
- Denying a parent access to important documentation and records such as educational, medical, or other type of records can have far-reaching consequences. It is important for both parents to have access to these documents in order to ensure that their child’s best interests are being met. Not only does this deny the other parent the ability to participate fully in their child’s life, but it also limits the resources available for childcare and support.
- Blaming the other parent for divorce, everything that’s wrong in the family’s lives, and for financial problems.
- Divorce can be an emotionally difficult and stressful process for everyone involved. Unfortunately, it is common for one or both parents to attempt to blame the other parent for the divorce, as well as all of the family’s current and future issues. This can be damaging to all family members, especially children, who may feel caught in the middle of their parents’ divorce-related arguments.
Parental alienation hurts the child first and foremost. It creates a situation where the child cannot fully enjoy the love of both her parents and has to deal with the guilt of feeling love for the “guilty” party and has to choose sides. When the child has to choose sides, this affects them negatively in deep and lasting way; there is a risk of depression for the children throughout the divorce. This effectively ends their childhood because they have to figure out how to deal with the most important people in their life, their parents, hating each other and having to get around that. Many states have made the conclusion that the default custody arrangement should be shared legal and shared physical/residential custody of the child because it causes the least harm to the child and allows both parents equal access to the child.
Children dealing with one parent spewing hateful information about the other and brainwashing them into hating the other parent suffer irreparable harm. These kids learn to lie, to omit, to withhold information, to manipulate parents using the parental alienation. They grow up to realize they were controlled and manipulated at a young age and often cut out the alienating parent altogether from their lives. It’s bad!
✍MODIFYING CUSTODY ARRANGEMENT The court may change the custody, visitation and parenting judgment if the judge believes parental alienation is causing the child harm. The court has to look out for the best interests of the child when making custody decisions and those best interests absolutely include love and affection for both parents. The court may change the custody, visitation and parenting judgment if the judge believes parental alienation is causing the child harm. The court has to look out for the best interests of the child when making custody decisions and those best interests absolutely include love and affection for both parents.
🧑⚖️PARENTAL ALIENATION MAY BECOME A CRIME If one parent makes false accusations of abuse, that may create a situation where they are guilty of the crime of PERJURY. Thus, parental alienation may become a crime where one parent intentionally falsely reports to the court (lying under oath) or Child Protective Services agency that the other parent is abusing the joint child.
💵PARENTAL ALIENATION MAY CAUSE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS TO BE SUSPENDED
No specific federal or state regulations or laws exist making parental alienation a crime. However, divorce judges deal with this every day through the legal system. There are legal repercussions to parent alienation. Some courts recognize parental alienation as a serious issue with potential long-term effects and serious outcomes for the child.
In New York State, for instance, there exists a precedent of the court suspending child support in favor of the alienating parent when the payee alienating parent shows a pattern of alienation. See Matter of Coull v Rottman, 156 A.D.3d 885, 65 N.Y.S.3d 756 (NY 2nd Dept, 2015)” – from the NY Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department. In this case, the Brooklyn appeals court ruled here that a father who has been prevented from seeing his son by the child’s mother should not have to pay child support. Other judges followed this decision and I see this enforced in NY Family Courts in our practice.
However, there is an important distinction here. If the other parent’s own conduct contributed to or was the cause to the children not wanting to visit him, the courts will uphold the child support arrears and NOT force the kids to see the payor parent. See Pandis v, Lapas 2019 NY Slip Op 07267, Decided on October 9, 2019 Appellate Division, NY Second Department
👪COURT-MANDATED REUNIFICATION THERAPY – HEALING BROKEN PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS
In some other jurisdictions like New Jersey – my other state of admission and practice – family courts have been dealing with parental alienation by forcing the parents to attend court-mandated Reunification Therapy.
👆What is Reunification Therapy? It is a combination of individual and family counseling designed to repair a parent-child relationship that was disrupted during a divorce or parents’ separation. Usually, it’s the alienated parent that asks the court to order and mandate both parents and the children to attend reunification therapy when the children no longer want to follow the court-ordered visitation and parenting plan.
There’s never a best time for kids and divorce. If you want to remove the guilt and stress from the situation, make sure you are prepared for the best way to discuss the topic with your children. Be intentional about the process and ways you discuss the subject with your kids, and remember, they will be okay. It’s never too early to start building your support system. The best way to build your support system is to surround yourself with positive people and think about ways you can build healthy relationships with them. Whether it’s talking to a trusted friend, joining a self-improvement group like Yoga, or reading personal growth books, make sure you invest in creating a strong network of supportive relationships in your life.
If you’re looking for a divorce attorney near you in New Jersey or New York State, Marina Shepelsky is an award-winning lawyer with decades of experience in divorce law. Marina has experienced divorce in her personal life and will take your case with compassion and the utmost support for the benefit of your future, and that of family.
Shepelsky Law Group’s offices are in Brooklyn, New York and service both NY and NJ. We are a group of legal professional ready to go to battle for you and complete your divorce with minimal damage to you and your family!
Shepelsky Law Group Tel: (718) 769-6352