Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys
Food For Thought
When Parents go to Court, for Children
If you have ever been sent down to the principal's office...or know anyone who has...that's about how it feels to go to family law court. It is scary and sad at the same time. It's not like your parents are in trouble, or that they have done something bad, it's just that they can't agree about how to split up the family and need a judge to help them.
It's hard to see your parents so angry and in so much pain. I am sure that you have also felt the same pain. You may have friends whose parents are divorced, but you never thought your parents would do that. Now you don't know what will happen to you. Where will you live and with whom?. How often will you see your other parent? It is sad to think that you won't be one happy family again, at least, not in the same way.
During this difficult time its important to keep a few things in mind :
- It's okay to be sad. Things are changing in your life and I am sure that a part of you wishes this had never happened. It's also okay to be angry. Just don't take it out on everyone. Sometimes it helps to keep a journal of your feelings. You will notice that over time as you heal, your family does too.
- Remember that it is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to keep your parents together. Sometimes kids feel that if only they had acted better or gotten better grades then maybe their parents would not be getting divorced. This just isn't true. Your parents have adult problems that they could not work out. There is no way that you can be responsible for what has happened in their relationship.
- Don't be the mediator. You can't fix this. It is bigger than you. You may want to hear what each parent has to say about the other parent, but it isn't good for you. It makes you feel burdened and may even make you mad at the other parent. Remember there are two sides to every story. There are also many things that happen between parents that kids don't need to know because it is between their parents.
- If your parents seem upset about what happens in court, please be patient with them. Things will get better and as the judge makes decisions about where you will go and when, sometimes things calm down.
- No–you can't go to court. Lots of kids feel that they want to tell the judge what has been going on. If a judge feels that he or she wants to hear from you, they will appoint an attorney to meet with you and tell the judge how you feel. Typically, judges do not want you to go to court unless they tell you to. Judges understand how hard it is to see your parents fight and do not think its good for you to be in the middle of it all.
- Try not to be the messenger. Your parents will need to speak to each other about you or things in their family. Your only job is to be the kid and focus on the things you need to do at school, sports or with your friends.
- It is not true that at the magic age of 12 you don't have to live with or see your other parent. Judges think that it is healthy when you have a good relationship with both of your parents. In some cases, they will consider how you feel about where you want to live, but rarely does a judge say you don't have to see your other parent. When there are problems this big, judges usually appoint either a therapist or an attorney to help you resolve problems with your other parent.
Remember that with time things will get better. You will learn your schedule and adjust to it. Your parents will fight less and you will adjust to having things you do with mom and things you do with dad. It just seems hard now---you will get used to it and it can still be okay. You can still be okay.
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.
Psychologist License PSY7828, California213 E City Place Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92705