Obviously, if your child is under two years old, it may be difficult to involve them in a parental divorce by trying to explain what is happening, but studies show even if children do not have the verbal ability to express feelings, they are aware of the emotional climate in the home and easily sense sadness and discontent.
If a divorce is imminent, it is probably best for both parents to tell the children right away even if it’s something as simple as, “Daddy and Mommy will not be living together in the same house anymore.”
In fact, it may take several years for children of divorce to fully recover from negative emotional, psychological and physical symptoms brought about by the breakup of the family. The good news is that although forty percent of all children currently growing up in America will experience the divorce of their parents, the majority will grow up to be well-adjusted adults.
One expert on children’s responses to divorce, Dr. Daniel Pickar, divides the process into three stages with the first being the “immediate crisis stage.” This may last from two months to two years and is a time of shock and disbelief for the child. Children become frightened they will be abandoned by both parents as parents are frequently preoccupied with their own problems and spend less time with their kids. The conflict between the parents is usually heightened during this stage increasing the child’s anxiety.
The “short-term aftermath stage” can last up to two years and involves deepening recognition of the realities of divorce. In most cases, the hostility between parents continues and is a source of stress for the child. In this stage, older children are sometimes manipulated by the parents as go-betweens or allies with one parent pitted against the other.
The “long-range period” occurs two to three years after the initial separation and may be prolonged due to unresolved custody or financial battles. Children may feel displaced when many parents remarry during this stage and may feel disloyal to a parent if they have positive feelings about a step-parent. At this stage, many children still harbor a fantasy that their parents will reconcile. The dreams broken by divorce live on even though one or both parents have remarried.
Dr. Pickar suggests divorcing parents do the following to help their children cope:
1. Minimize parental conflict, especially in front of the children. Children who are exposed to overt conflict tend to have poorer psychological adjustment to a divorce;
2. Provide warmth, emotional support, adequate monitoring, authoritative discipline and age-appropriate expectations;
3. Allow the children contact with both parents for more positive adjustment and better academic performance after divorce (especially with involved fathers).
Another researcher advises putting the needs of your children first by:
· Not bad mouthing your spouse or former spouse directly to the children or indirectly;
· Not talking to your children about financial problems resulting from the divorce;
· Not making your child feel guilty about enjoying a relationship with the other parent or a step-parent;
· Loving your children and letting them love both of you.
Of course, if the custody of the children is contested, it could be very hard to limit their involvement. Generally the court appoints a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the interests of the minor(s) in the divorce case. The GAL conducts an investigation and may want to speak with the child. The GAL recommends to the court what is in the best interests of the child.
Either parent can also request an “in camera” interview of the child. The child will be brought to court and go into chambers with the hearing officer. At that time he or she can express their preference as to which parent they choose to live with after the divorce. Their decision is not absolute but can have considerable impact on the outcome of custody.
If the parties cannot agree on settling all of the issues that arise, this is where our law firm comes in. At the Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP, our experienced divorce lawyers will work to negotiate the best possible outcome for you, always taking into consideration the best interests of the children. We will assist you in deciding the best possible course of action, always with the intent to come to a reasonable settlement if possible.
Please call us at 1-888-534-4850 for a free initial consultation so that we can advise you on the best possible course of action for yourself and your family. You can also send us a message here from our website by filling out the FREE CASE REVIEW form in the upper right hand corner of the page.