Getting Kids Out Of The Cross Fire
Getting Kids Out Of The Cross Fire
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Heaven help those children whose separated parents are involved in a litigious
parenting dispute. 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.
From 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 me?
Often 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 live.
Litigation, 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-be-tied 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.
The 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
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
DivorceInteractive.com tries to provide
quality information, but cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness or adequacy
of the information, opinions or other content posted on the site. It is not
intended as a substitute for and should not be relied upon as legal, financial,
accounting, tax, medical or other professional advice. It should not be
construed as establishing a professional-client or professional-patient
relationship. The applicability of legal principles is subject to amendment by
the legislature, interpretation by the courts and different application by
different judges and may differ substantially in individual situations or
different states. Before acting on what you have read, it is important to obtain
appropriate professional advice about your particular situation and facts.
Access to and use of DivorceInteractive.com is subject to additional
Terms and Conditions. DivorceInteractive.com
is a secure site and respects your Privacy.
Advertise With Us |
Professional & Resource Directory
Divorce News | Glossary | Divorce Discussion Forums
DivorceInteractive.com All Rights Reserved.