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Kids Out Of The Cross Fire
help those children whose separated parents are involved in a litigious
parenting dispute unable to resolve child custody and access matters. Not only might the children have to contend with
possible sub-standard parenting as often alleged in various forms, but
many children are also subject to the parental stress and anger during the
process - at times very intensely expressed. Furthermore, the children may
be subject to parental pressures to align with one parent and may even
placed in the untenable position of being asked to outright choose one
parent over the other.
a psychological perspective this can be disastrous for the child presently
and as they grow to become adults. Children are dependent upon their
parents for safety, love and security. They form their own identity in
relation to both their parents. Experiencing one parent as “bad” runs
the risk of sending the psychological message that they are half bad too.
As such this can undermine a child’s identify and self-worth. With
regard to safety, love and security and given dependence upon the parents,
children can suffer anxiety if they feel their parent’s well-being is
threatened. If my mom or dad is hurt, who will protect and look after
children experience their parents stress and this wreaks havoc with their
ability to concentrate and attend to the demands of school. This side
effect of the parental dispute is sometimes used to support a claim of one
parent as better than the other. As such, it is very important to separate
issues of children’s distress from necessarily being caused by one
parent versus a consequence of the structural situation in which they
although at times necessary, can serve to entrench parents in their
position and escalate their interpersonal conflict. Throughout the volley
of affidavits, parents seek to exonerate themselves from the allegations
of the other while frequently intensifying their attack at the same time. Not
only am I not as bad as alleged, but s/he is even worse than I originally
stated… and I can prove it. In pursuit of proof some parents go to
great lengths to enlist family, friends and other neutral third parties to
proffer affidavits in support of their position. The lines get drawn and
woe betide for the child who doesn’t adhere to the battle lines and
discriminate between allies and foes. Thus, otherwise neutral turf for the
child becomes tainted ground and the child’s world of safe areas
lessens. In these situations and again structurally, children are at
greater risk of emotional harm. Likewise with the increase of emotional
tension, the child’s ability to function and perform appropriately can
be compromised. As such, young children who were toilet trained now soil
themselves and school age children wind up diagnosed with Attention
Deficit Disorder. Hence unresolved, on-going parenting disputes are
intrinsically contrary to the well-being of children.
objective when faced with contentious post separation parenting planning
is to resolve matters as expeditiously as possible. Whereas some litigants
delay as a strategy to develop a “status quo” in order to win their
position, this at the same time prolongs a tension filled situation for
children. Rather, the following is suggested as alternatives to on-going
litigation in the interest of the children:
Whenever possible, tone down the rhetoric. Try to avoid statements
that only inflame the other party. Escalation of a parent’s upset or
anger is seldom in a child’s best interest. Spare children the emotional
intensity and toxicity.
Consider mediation or other collaborative approaches as
alternatives to litigation. These strategies are generally accessible in a
more timely fashion than the courts. Further, through a mediation process,
the parents minimize the risk of losing control to the will of the court.
If there are clinical concerns then consider adding a trusted social
worker or psychologist to the team for consultation.
If it appears that parents are still unable to find a solution
outside of litigation, get an assessment as early as possible. Assessment
recommendations often lead to settlement. While the assessor does not hold
definitive power per se, it is known that the opinion of the assessor
tends to be influential in court. With the writing on the wall and yet an
opportunity to still negotiate, the assessment can be pivotal to a more
timely resolution. As an added benefit, a good assessor will educate the
parents on the children’s issues during the assessment, which in turn
can be therapeutic.
It is vital for parents, lawyers and others involved in parenting disputes to understand children’s psychological vulnerability as an inherent consequence of ongoing parenting disputes. Let’s get kids out of the cross fire. Consider the suggested alternatives to facilitate a quicker resolution that in turn can allow parents and children to then get on with their lives.
Still fighting child custody issues? Use this:
To track your child custody schedule, use this:
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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