Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys
Food For Thought
Going to Court, for Parents
On the day you married, amid promises to love forever, who would have imagined that you would ever find yourself outside the family law courthouse. At what point did promises disappear, only to be replaced by acrimony and hurt. Here you are, none-the-less. You are now being forced to learn how to be divorced and how to help your children shuttle back and forth between two warring parties.
Let's face it, due to the pain of breakups, children know way more than they should about what is going on. Often because of the pain that parents experience, they share too much, being unaware of the fact that their children wear the weight of this knowledge on their young faces. At a time of your most intense personal hurt and disappointment you are also expected to keep your feelings in check and continue to try to create some aspect of family life for your children, also aware of how this family breakup has forever changed what their definition of family life will be.
You can and will survive this difficult and painful time. There are some things that can help you and ultimately, your children navigate through these custodial battles. Even if you only employ a few of these hints, you can lessen the damage your children experience.
- Do not EVER bring your children to court unless you are directed to do so by a judge. As you may have already seen, the family law court is filled with angry, hurt, anxious people who believe their very existence is hanging in the balance. The tension is palpable. Your children have experienced enough already. Shield them from this.
- DO NOT bring your children along when you meet with your attorney. It puts them squarely in the middle of the fight at a time they really should be more worried about why the sky is blue or what state will they pick for the state report.
- DO NOT ask your children who they want to live with. They are a part of both you and you're soon to be ex–and they may well tell both of you the same thing. Not wanting to upset either of you, children often give the answer the asking parent wants to hear. Children also are not necessarily capable of understanding the long- range ramifications of these decisions. This is why judges rely on child custody evaluators, not on a child's stated preference.
- DO tell them that you and their other parent are discussing what type of schedule will be best for them. Your kids know you are going to court, so you need to validate their knowledge–but give them only that much information don't discuss any aspect of your custodial disagreement.
- DO tell them that both parents love them and really want what's best for them. As you can not agree on that, a judge has been appointed to help you both make decisions that are fair for everyone, until such point as the two of you can make decisions on your own.
- Take care of yourself. Talk to your adult friends for emotional support so you won't unknowingly lean on your children. If you can't find objective enough friends, seek professional help or attend a divorce recovery group. Children also can benefit from attendance in a divorce recovery program, which may be the one neutral place where they can reveal their real feelings about the parental breakup without worrying about hurting either parent.
- Try to eat something before you go to court. Cases rarely go according to the timetable you have anticipated and having nothing in your stomach really does not help.
- Try to keep your focus on how you and your ex can co-parent, if this is at all possible. In many cases, it really is best when both parents can share in the responsibility of raising the children together. It's better for the kids and isn't that the point?
Above all, keep your love for your children at the forefront of all the decisions that are made about them. Remember this is not about revenge. The winners in the court battle need to be the children, whom you are trying to give the best possible life despite the divorce
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.
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