Children and Divorce


Children and Divorce



“When you’re a little kid, you don’t know what’s going on”

“When they fight, I go to my room and cover my ears. Why do they have to do that? They tell me and my sister not to fight”.

“When my parents get into it, I play my music……loud ”

“I think it’s my fault that they are yelling. “

“I just want things to be like they used to be. My little brother comes into my room.  He gets scared.  Me too.

“ I want them to know how I feel but they might feel bad or get angry with me "

“ I feel lonely and bad inside”

“I’m stuck in the middle…and it doesn’t feel good…”

These are some of the comments heard from children over many years. It’s heartbreaking. If they don’t know that their parents are divorcing, they often worry that they will divorce when they hear parents arguing or not speaking to each other. They love both parents, who are part of them, and share their parents’ pain. Children may be confused by what they see and hear and feel disappointed or upset with their parents’ behavior. Most often, they will not, or cannot. articulate their upset to their parents for fear of upsetting them. Mom and dad, frequently preoccupied, are trying to cope and struggling to hold things together during a very trying time. The majority of parents, who adore their children, may not be aware of what their children are experiencing.

Children don’t cause divorce but they do have to live with its consequences. Confusion, sadness, anger, guilt and feeling lost, are some of the sentiments expressed by children living through the divorce process and its aftermath. Parents need to protect their children, as much as possible, from having to do the hardest thing of all – choosing between parents. One way to protect them is to minimize or eliminate the negative and angry aspects of the divorce experience. When both parents put the children first, their children have the freedom to love them both. If parents don’t create two sides, children don’t feel conflicted about having to take a side. It’s important to allow them to feel safe and hold on to cherished family memories as the family transforms .

Divorce is a multifaceted and draining experience. If you are considering it, or going through it, you know that. There will be a number of transitions in your life, possibly change of residence and/or school[s], lifestyle changes such having to get a job [even if you have not had one for a long time], activities, vacations, going out less, cooking more, fewer indulgences for all, etc. There may be changes in how you relate to in-laws, or how they relate to you – all impact your children. Sometimes ‘couple’ friends choose one ‘side’ and withdraw from the other, which can also affect the children. Another stressful transformation is preparing to live on your own, learning about and doing things that your spouse or partner took care of; again, these changes trickle down to children. If your spouse is involved with a new partner, there will be a period of acclimation for you and your children. Even though they may like the new person, there are often loyalty issues to their other parent. Much of children’s feelings about such a situation depend on how their parents feel and handle it. “If I like Mary, will mom feel bad or be upset with me?” “If David plays ball with me, how will dad feel”? In a stepfamily type of situation there will be new and different family rituals and rules to be absorbed by children…the time [and how] you eat dinner, rules of behavior, holidays and vacations to name just a few situations that require adaptation. If your partner’s or spouse’s new partner (or yours) has children, additional layers of adaptation need to be considered and managed.

Single or shared parenting is a new and challenging experience, for parents and children. If your spouse or partner relocates farther away, you may find yourself with most of the parenting responsibilities or… you long for your children when they are with the other parent. Be aware that your children may be in the position of always be missing a parent. If you live in proximity with the other parent, your children’s needs, schedules and desires will be best served by flexibility on the part of both parents. There so many ‘ifs’… Cooperative co-parenting is crucial !

One of the benefits of collaborative divorce is that stressful transitions, identified above, can be eased. The level of divorce related tension is largely determined by how you and your spouse or partner navigate the divorce experience. When you work together, with dignity and respect, everyone feels more comfortable - family members, including in-laws, other couples and friends in your sphere but, most important, your children. As you and your spouse or partner make decisions together, with the assistance of experienced and understanding professionals, in a safer environment, your joint efforts to put your children first will generate priceless rewards.

The Child Specialist is a licensed professional who has expertise in working with children, adolescents, adults, family systems and divorce. He/she is knowledgeable about the emotional and cognitive development of children and can provide relevant answers to your questions and guidance, as needed. Child Specialists are experienced in gathering information and sharing recommendations with parents that can specific to each child. Having been trained in mediation and collaborative divorce, as well as their clinical professional licenses, they are well qualified to help you create a Parenting Plan, which covers all aspects of your children’s needs following the dissolution of a marriage or partnership.


The Child Specialist is a member of the collaborative divorce team who first meets with both parents to gather background information on the children’s personalities, predilections and possible problems. He/she will want to know what the children already know about the divorce and how the parents have dealt with, or plan to deal with, the situation. He/she can advise you on how to tell the children about the change in your family and prepare them to meet with the child specialist . Parents often seek guidance on the best way to inform their children, about separation, and/or divorce. The Child Specialist’s role is to understand what is especially important and relevant to each child and share that information with the parents during the divorce experience. He/she educates parents about the impact of divorce and family transition on their particular children, given their ages, personalities and established relationships with each parent. Working with both parents, the Chld Specialist tailors the Parenting Plan to each family’s specific needs. Cooperative co-parenting is basic to insuring continuity and consistency.

The children’s contact with the Child Specialist is often brief and focused. They are seen individually and/or together, as appropriate, in a gentle and friendly manner. They are helped to understand that they are their parents’ priority and their input is important to their parents in planning how to move forward in the best way. Children learn that they have a voice though it is their parents’ responsibility to make decisions. The Child Specialist may seek further information ( if needed) from other professionals, - teachers, doctors, therapists, etc. After meeting with the children, he/she communicates with the parents and the team to offer a comprehensive understanding of the children’s issues, needs, concerns and wishes and then assists with the preparation of the Parenting Plan. . The Child Specialist can be available, if child related issues arise, following divorce.

After working with parents and children during the collaborative divorce process, I have been so happy to hear some different comments from children:

“I got punished a lot so thought it was my fault that mommy and daddy were getting divorce. Now I know it wasn’t my fault, just something between them. I don’t know what – they said it was grown-up stuff”.

“They used to fight but now they talk more – even so, they still don’t want to live together.”

“They said Santa will know and come to both houses!”

“We’re still a family but don’t live together any more, that’s all.”

“ I think they are both happier and it’s easier now “.

Ah, very special music to my ears !




PS:  Please keep in mind that adolescents and older children, even married ones, are also affected by divorce and the

Child Specialist is there to inform and assist.

Keeping Peace During The Holidays

Does anticipation of the coming holidays have you stressed - gifts to buy, people to invite, meals to make, in addition to your already busy daily schedule?  First, enjoy a slow, long, deep breath and then, keep reading.

The frenzy of festivities for adults inevitably trickles down to children.  They sense tension (if not the reason for it) and react.  Children are creatures of habit and find comfort in the security of routine....knowing what comes next.  It gives them some sense of control, which is something they don't yet have, in general.  As holiday preparations interfere with parents' usual routines and their stress level increases, and patience decreases, children may show signs of distress,  becoming more clingy, needy, cranky or combative.  They may present problems with activities that they normally do with relative ease.  Bedtime, waking up, going to school or their play may be affected.

If you observe any of the above, or other changes, in your child's behavior lately, you might want to consider a quick self-check.   Are you feeling overwhelmed by adult responsibilites?  Do you have less time to play or talk with your children?  Do you feel less patient when they are not being angels?  Relax.

Your first step is to help yourself.  [Think of what they tell us on airplanes.  Put your own oxygen mask on first!]  You need to summon your support system - spouse, parents, family, friends - to lighten your load.  See if you can organize your time better, eliminating the frills for a while.  Only do what is most important;  some tasks and chores can wait until after the holidays.  A babysitter, even a young one who can occupy the children while you are at home, can offer some breathing space.  Keeping as many of the routines that your children are attached to helps keep them grounded.

Children are often the most problematic when you really need to get something done.  Spending ten or fifteen mintues with them (a story, game or simple project that they can continue with themselves) should allow you to return to your chore more peacefully.  If what you are doing is something they can participate in (making cookies, etc.), even at a very simple level, they feel important and may actually be helpful.  Even clean-up can be done together if it's presented as fun ("see if you can beat the clock", etc.).  It's easier to do if there's a promise of  something special to follow. ["If we can finish this chore quicker, we'll have more time to read a book together"]

Young children can feel overwhelmed by the level of activity  -  crowds of pople, having to sit on Santa's lap, worrying about Santa and all those reindeer on the roof, having to kiss  or be adorable for scores of relatives and friends.  What we take for granted or fun can be stressful to a child, depending on their personality and age.  Taking a few moments to listen or observe your child, especially if they are not yet verbal (or inclined) to express their feelings, can save a lot of time and energy.

The spirit of the season will be remembered, in the long run, not necessarily the number of presents or events attended.  Feeling safe and secure in a loving family ignites the spark of the warm glow we feel when we think of the holidays.   Enjoy !

Single Parents in Stepfamilies

While members of blended families are concerned with dancing to different tunes and not stepping on each other's toes, there is another member of the stepfamily, who may appear, to some, as the wallflower (male or female) - the single parent who doesn't have a Significant Other.  In fact, many single parents don't even think of themselves as part of a stepfamily but they are.

Two Homes, One Family

The holidays are over and somehow you got through them because you didn't want to spoil it for the whole family. But, you believe  that divorce is the only answer at this point.  You don't feel that you can continue as a family, in one house, but still hope to be a family, in two houses.  Your children are young, impressionable and need two parents.  You don't want to go through a custody battle, evaluations, etc. and want to continue to have more of a voice in parenting, without the negatives that some of your friends or family members have experienced in getting their divorces.

There is an answer - Collaborative Divorce.  With this method, your attorneys, both collaboratively trained, are committed to helping people get divorced, out of Court and the public record, in a non-contentious environment. Collaborative attorneys work together for the benefit of the couple, or family  if there are children.  Although each lawyer advocates for his/her client, he or she does so in an open and cooperative manner.  The result is that you can each walk away from the marriage knowing that not taking a "battle" approach allows you both to move on, feeling better about your spouse and yourself, which is  invaluable when you have children of any age.

A number of Collaborative attorneys work with a team, which handles, as needed, the emotionally charged aspects of divorce.  Specifically trained and licensed mental health practitioners function in two ways, as a Divorce Coach or a Child Specialist.  These professionals free the lawyers to do what they are best trained to do and also offer their clients additional services, often needed during divorce, at less than attorney rates.

Divorce Coaches help their clients overcome any emotional obstacles (which can result in less attorney time) and offers them better ways of coping,which is so crucial during the divorce experience, and, useful for a  lifetime.  They do not serve as therapists in this role but can refer to another therapist, if indicated. Although a client may already be in therapy, the work of a Divorce Coach is different.  It is brief and focused on the present, getting you through the divorce with your dignity intact. Many therapists are not trained in this kind of coaching and would not,  ethically, be able to fill both roles anyway.  We are ethically bound to not 'wear two hats'.   Therapy is a totally confidential process and divorce coaching involves sharing pertinent information only  with the Collaborative team.  Outside of the team, all information is confidential.

When a couple has children, the manner in which they divorce sends a powerful message .  The most important factor in a child's future emotional development is how well their parents continue to co-parent during and after the divorce. The Child Specialist is another team role filled by a mental health practitioner. S/he is the only member of the team to meet the child(ren) and becomes the 'voice' of the child(ren).  Children are not always forthright with their parents, at this time, for fear of hurting their feelings, upsetting them further, etc.  When parents are not able to agree about the children, the Child Specialist, trained in child development, family relations, parent education, communication skills and marital transitions, helps parents come to agreements about each child's specific needs. The goal is to assist parents  in helping their children adapt and move forward, in the best way possible, during and after the divorce.  The Child Specialist can be available, following divorce, if there are issues, with children, related to the divorce.  It IS possible to have one family in two homes -  when parents learn how to effect that, there are long-term benefits for each family member.




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