By Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq., 301.563.6685
Through my years of experience as a family law attorney and as a court-appointed “Best Interest Attorney” for children of high-conflict custody cases, I have seen first-hand the negative impact a custody case can have on a child if parents don’t put their children’s needs first.
Parents will seriously harm their child’s emotional development if they treat the child as a pawn and put them in the middle of their fighting. It is far better for a child’s well-being that parents resolve custody issues even before announcing their impending separation and divorce to their children.
When it’s time to tell your child about your upcoming separation and divorce, you and the other parent should announce your decision together. Parenting experts suggest that the parents agree on a narrative of why they are separating and don’t blame one parent for the break-up of the marriage. It would be best to tell your children that it was your joint decision to separate and that they are not at fault. You should also assure your children that both of you love them and will remain actively involved in their lives. It is also best to work out the children’s schedule between the two new homes before announcing your impending separation.
Encourage your children to open up to you and your estranged spouse with any concerns, fears, worries, or questions that they have. It is important to remember that your child may first be in shock and that as the shock wears off, they will have many questions. Therefore, be available and present so that your child can ask questions and discuss their worries and fears as time goes by.
Do not discuss your estranged spouse’s faults or any disagreements that you’re having with your estranged spouse with your children. Keep all negativity away from your children to reduce the amount of stress you cause them. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and vent to a friend or your therapist. Your children should not be involved at all in adult matters.
Your children need support from both parents, so do your best to talk with your children together and in a healthy way that creates a new family unit where the participants are the same, but the surroundings change. When you and your spouse separate, spend some time with your children in their new home with the other parent and make sure that they have the things that will make them comfortable at both houses. This is almost always the most challenging aspect of divorce but remember, as parents, you need to find a way to get along for your children’s sake, and this is the first step in showing your children they will be fine and the new family unit is their new normal.
Kids are very resilient and flexible and can adapt well to change but remain consistent. Although you are separated or divorced, it is as important as before, if not more important, that the two of you are in agreement about discipline, expectations, and communications. Establish a means where you and your ex can communicate about the kids and make decisions about their best interests. Although it won’t be perfect, you have to find a way to talk. Consistency and routine will help your children establish their new normal and cope with the changes.
Get your children into therapy. There are many changes, questions, and emotions your children will go through. The reality is no matter how good your relationship is with your children, they will not share all of their feelings or concerns with you. Getting a therapist involved early in the process can help your children navigate the changes they will face and ensure that they positively come through the divorce.
With both parents’ support, honest sincerity, and working together, your children will be able to cope with the unfamiliar and get through what most find to be an emotional, difficult time.
About Andalman & Flynn, P.C.: Founded in 1998 in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, Andalman & Flynn has forged a distinguished reputation for legal excellence. The firm represents individuals seeking disability benefits throughout the country and practices family law throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia. The firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. The firm has provided legal analysis on national and local television and radio, and their attorneys often testify before legislative bodies and are routinely invited to contribute to prominent legal publications. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit the website at andalmanflynn.com or call 301.563.6685.