Divorce & the Effects on Children Part 2

April 13, 2012

As mentioned last week, statistics show that approximately 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Now that divorce is so prevalent in today's society, we need to find effective ways to minimize the negative effects on children and maximize family support and encouragement through this tough time. Listed below are three proposed solutions that you as a parent can do to help reduce the negative effects divorce may have on your children. Not one solution by itself will eliminate the problem, but a combination of them may significantly decrease the negative effects divorce has on children. These solutions include: divorce education and co-parenting classes, divorce mediation, and family counseling. Also your attorney can engage in collaborative practice of law to further assist in making the divorce process easier on children.

Education Programs

A recent study indicates that 46 states currently offer some version of a parent education program. Some jurisdictions also offer classes for children coping with their parents divorce and a few jurisdictions offer parallel classes for both parents and children. For example, in San Diego, there is a program for children called KidsTurn. Some of these programs are court mandated or recommended by the judge, while others are voluntary. These classes can last anywhere from a few hours in one day up to eight weeks. Many of these programs reported positive findings such that parents either reported decreased interparental conflict or decreased re-litigation.

These education programs aim to do the following: 1) inform parents how children usually respond to divorce; 2) alert parents to the negative effect of conflict and their harmful behaviors on children's adjustment both in the short and long term; 3) discuss benefits of, and skills needed, to build a cooperative or parallel parenting relationship; 4) focus parents on the needs of children for an on-going relationship with each parent; 5) teach positive parenting behaviors and appropriate discipline; 6) discuss the process of adult adjustment to divorce and how to cope with this change; 7) focus on responsibilities of each parent to the children; and 8) describe helpful court processes, such as mediation. This can completely change a person's parenting style and their relationship with their ex spouse and their children.

Co-parenting Classes

Cooperation between parents after divorce includes frequent communication about the child, coordination of routines across households, the ability to resolve differences in a mutually satisfactory manner, and respect for and support of the other parent's relation with the child. In order to accomplish these things without conflict, it is useful for parents to attend co-parenting classes together. These may be court mandated by the judge or taken voluntarily by the parents.

Co-Parenting has been used in a variety of ways to refer to the degree to which the ex-spouses share the parenting role. These include: joint problem solving skills and joint decision making concerning the child's welfare, low levels of conflict around parenting issues, building communication and trust, and also sharing in joint responsibilities. Programs have reported positive findings such as decreased inter-parental conflict, increased encouragement with other parent's involvement, trust for the other parent's ability to parent the child, and decreased re-litigation. About 80% of judges report that these classes helped parents agree on custody arrangements before coming to court and decreased re-litigation of those who had already been in court.

Divorce Mediation

Mediation has been required in California for divorcing parents regarding child custody and visitation since 1981. The goal of mediation is to facilitate communication between the parents and foster an agreement that works best for the parents and the children involved. Mediation has been shown to reduce levels of parental conflict, improve communication skills and child support compliance, and increase visitation and contact with the non-custodial parent. Mediation has also been found to be more efficient in time and expense. Mediation assists parents in recognizing they may be divorcing each other, but will be connected as parents forever.

This shift from litigation to mediation can change the way divorce negatively affects your children. The mediation process encourages communication between both parents, where litigation does not. It gives you, as parents, a chance to come up with an agreement of what is best for you and your child instead of allowing a Judge to decide for you. Mediation is also much less time consuming and more cost effective than going to court.

Family Counseling

Society today views counseling as a bad thing, the stereotype is that a parent can't take care of their children if they have to attend counseling. This is not true. Although it is usually associated with feelings of shame, guilt, failure, and embarrassment by parents, counseling can be extremely beneficial. What parents don't realize is that counseling can help the child feel more comfortable in sharing their feelings or concerns. It can help the child-parent relationship by fostering more open communication at home. Counseling can give the parent's a chance to cope and heal from the divorce so they can help their children do the same. Furthermore, resources can be provided to help with stress and emotion among children and parents struggling with the aftermath of a divorce, such as programs and support groups.

Families going through divorce typically experience a range of emotions. Counseling provides parents with the opportunity to identify those underlying issues/emotions that may be causing parental conflict. These often include: anger, trust, bitterness, jealousy, and betrayal. For many parents, it seems impossible at the time of the divorce to get along with their ex spouse. In fact, studies show that many parents are incapable of achieving cooperative parenting behavior, or at least conflict free behavior without outside intervention. If counseling can help break through these walls, and help parents interact in front of the child without conflict, it can be the best solution in helping children cope with divorce.

Children of different ages experience divorce in different ways. However, most children of divorce at any age appear to benefit from counseling. These benefits include a sense of belonging, a sense that their problems and feelings can be shared, and the development of positive coping skills. Research shows that family counseling with both the parents and the child is most beneficial. Working with a divorce counselor has been found to reduce the stress on children during this difficult period. Children can learn how to manage their feelings and cope with the challenges of divorce. The focus of hope and motivation can be restored through counseling, which provides a safe and supportive environment for the child. Children of divorce can develop greater compassion, deeper insight, understanding and wisdom from their experiences. Counseling can help a child become stronger throughout the divorce process.

Collaborative Practice by Attorneys

Attorneys are built with this competitive nature and high financial drive. It is hard to imagine that attorneys may actually contribute to the negative effects children face after divorce, but research shows that 38% of lawyers attributed to combativeness with the opposing party. It is important to remember that divorces, especially those involving children, differ from other types of litigation in significant respects. First, the litigants share an intimate past relationship which may heighten one or both spouses' sense of abandonment, loss, bitterness, and/or betrayal. Second, because the parties share a child, they will necessarily be forces to interact with each other for years to come, whether they like it or not. Third, while the parties are at polar opposites during the case, they are expected to put aside their animosity and work together as soon as the court proceedings are over.

In order to mitigate negative effects on children parents should follow these simple steps when selecting an attorney: 1) Select a like minded attorney. The parent should explain his or her preference for a child-friendly divorce and only select an attorney that is on board with this type of representation. 2) Be kind. Both the lawyer and the parent should refuse to act in a vindictive way towards the other spouse and should reframe from using threats and exaggerated demands. 3) Strategize. The lawyer and parent should plan a strategy to promote stability in the child's social and emotional life during the divorce process. 4) Get Information. Ask your attorney to provide you with any information about community based and/or school support groups for parents and children going through divorce. In addition, 5) the lawyer should encourage alternative dispute resolution and settlements outside of court and finally, 6) make sure to approach the mediation or negotiation in an objective, fair, and trustworthy way.

At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford we strive to make the divorce process as smooth as possible for all the parties involved. We are here to help you and your children through this difficult time. Our goal is to work in a collaborative manner that gets you results. Please call 858-793-8884 today to schedule a consultation with a Certified Family Law Specialist. We look forward to working with you.