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Divorce Can be an Opportunity for Growth

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Thanks to Deborah Moskovitch for this great opportunity to tell the story of my own family divorce. I was just a little boy when it happened and it changed me forever.

“It’s Never Too Late to Have a Good Childhood” — with Deborah Moskovitch.

The Myth Of The Tough Boy

photo by Sukanto Debnath via PhotoRee

Stereotypes classify boys as tough, and girls as sensitive. In some cases, superficial behaviors can uphold this generalization, but, as is with all stereotypes, it is usually false. Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., examines the deep vulnerability of boys undergoing a parental divorce in his article Helping Children Survive Divorce: The Myth of the Tough Boy.

The right way for a separated parent to approach insecurity in a young child is, first, to read these behaviors for what they really are: insecurity. They are not attempts to manipulate you, or get special favors. Rather than trying to ignore a child’s insecurity in the hope it will go away, or else resist the child’s efforts to get additional comfort, divorcing parents need to accept it and provide the increased comfort and attention that the child is asking for through his or her behavior.

To read his complete article, click here.

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Child Development

Ron Supancic asked Attorney Leslie Ellen Shear what steps parents can take to insure that their children are not harmed by the divorce and she answered,”They can take a deep breath to begin with.”

In part two of this four-part series, Attorney Shear describes beautifully the emotional process a couple goes through while divorcing, what their children go through, and what parents can do to help their children get through it.

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Missed Part 1? Here it is:

Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: “A” Stood for Alternative

Don’t miss another episode! Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes and tune in next week for Honest, Blunt & Brilliant: Custody Matters.

Learn more about Leslie Ellen Shear at CustodyMatters.com.

Dr. Kathy Memel on Divorce (Part 3 of 4)

This is the third segment in a four part series featuring a live recording of Dr. Kathy Memel presenting at one of our recent Second Saturday Workshops. In this podcast Dr. Memel discusses why it’s important for divorcing parents to present a united front to their children, the best ways for the parent who’s moved out to stay in touch with their kids, and how to keep your child’s life as stable as possible even in the midst of a tumultuous divorce.

Dr. Memel is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Beverly Hills. To learn more about Dr. Memel, visit her website at www.KathyMemel.com.

Missed Parts 1 and 2 of Dr. Memel’s interview? Click HERE for Part 1, click HERE for Part 2.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to Ron and Robert on Divorce on iTunes.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

M. Marcy Jones is a Virginia family law attorney, author, speaker, coach and advocate for change. She founded Graceful Divorce Solutions for many of the same reasons Ron and Robert founded The Law Collaborative and Ron and Robert on Divorce — to provide tools, information, and education to separated and divorcing people.

Ron and Robert often talk about the rights of children in divorce. You can read some of their articles on the subject here. I just discovered Marcy’s Top 10 List of Do’s and Don’ts for Parents Going Through Divorce, and I thought it fit so beautifully with The Law Collaborative’s 12 Inalienable Rights of Children, that I had to share it with you.

    Check out Attorney M. Marcy Jones Top 10 List of Do’s and Don’ts for Parents Going Through Divorce. Her article has some wonderful insight for parents, divorcing or not.

    Children Feel Anxious, Too

    Photo by Grendl on Flickr

    Children find the divorce of their parents to be the single most catastrophic thing that has ever happened to them. It is easy for adults to forget that essential element of childhood: dependency. A child depends on grown-ups for food, clothing, housing, warmth — everything.

    This truth came home startlingly to a father I knew.  Through an unbelievable maze of events, his ex-wife had disappeared and his children had gone off to live with a woman in Wyoming who was co-habiting with some college students. Alarmed about the welfare of his children, he stormed off to retrieve them. A local lawyer helped him get a court order to make his task easier. So, accompanied by two deputy sheriffs, he arrived at the door of the woman’s home. She became violent and had to be restrained. The young children were so alarmed that they insisted they didn’t want to leave. Two of them even locked themselves in a bathroom. However, a few minutes later, almost as soon as they were in the car and headed back home, the children apologized to their father for their behavior and expressed their pleasure at the thought of returning home and getting away from the woman. As they were doing this, he told me, it suddenly struck him that they were being as honest as they could and he ought not blame them for their duplicity. He recognized their dependency, which made it necessary for them to come to terms with whatever adult was closest at hand. To ask them to protest on the grounds of principle was absurd.

    Read more…

    The Effects of Anger on Children in Divorce

    Photo by Hawk 1966 on Flickr

    The most significant disruptions children have to face during a divorce stem from pervasive changes in their parents’ moods, attitudes, and behavior.  As the family crisis grows up the the point of separation, most children witness a removal of all the old restraints that once held their families together.  Bitter and explosive confrontations beteen Mom and Dad are common.

    In divorce, anger is expressed over many issues; almost invariably one of these is money.  For example, when a child needs medical attention, money quickly becomes an avenue for venting anger.  Donna had a kidney infection.  Donna’s mother told the doctor to send the bill to Donna’s father because, as she read their temporary agreement, he had agreed to pay for such things.  But he refused to pay the bill.  News of this didn’t reach Donna’s mother until a few months later when she had to take Donna back to the doctor because the infection had recurred.  In order to get treatment for her daughter, she had to start paying off the previous bill in regular installments.  After that, she was not at liberty to take Donna to the doctor as often as she would have liked.  This is the sort of scenario I see replayed again and again in the divorces I handle.

    The bell seems to clang for the fighters to enter the ring almost as often when it comes to visiting arrangments.  One mother hastily took her children to the movies one summer afternoon when Daddy didn’t arrive on time to pick them up.  He got there twenty minutes late to find the house empty.  He protested, but Mother replied icily that she was not going to permit him to disappoint the children by arriving late.  Traffic jams and the like were his tough luck.  She was so intent on punishing the father that she overlooked the children’s anxiety about their father not finding them at home.  It astonishes me, when I get the phone call Monday morning after the regular weekend confrontation, that no one seems concerned about how the children are feeling.

    The most common expression of anger comes in the form of badmouthing the absent parent to the children.  When asked, children complain about this more than anything else.  Children find it particularly distressing to hear their parents labeled with the most alarming obscenities imaginable.  Often children are invited to join in this name-calling.  Some will do so eagerly, others will feel anxious, and some will be disgusted.  It’s not uncommon for a judge in a custody suit to place restraining orders on both parties, which forbid them from making any derogatory remarks about the other parent in the presence or hearing of the children.  Often, when parents are helped to recognize that verbally assaulting the children’s other parent is also an assault on the child’s own self-esteem, they stop doing it.

    However, some parents are so implacable that nothing can dampen their rage.  When this is the case, the children really feel it.  Custody battles are commonplace, and childnapping is even attempted from time to time.  Battles around visitation are almost incessant.  Often, children are exposed to the unspoken threat that they will seriously jeopardize their relationship with one parent if they exhibit any loyalty toward the other.

    I represented Lucy against Frank in a recent custody dispute involving their eleven- and thirteen-year-old daughters.  Each parent testified that the girls had expressed a preference for them over the other parent.  The judge ordered the courtroom cleared of all witnesses, including Frank and Lucy.  He ordered the record sealed and admonished counsel not to disclose the testimony of the girls to their parents.  I was astonished to hear both girls testify that they liked spending equal amounts of time with their mother and father.  They simply couldn’t bring themselve to tell the truth to either parent. They told them what they wanted to hear, and only added fuel to the fire that was consuming the resources that could have meant college for them later on.

    When anger seems pointless to a person, it degenerates into depression  A depressed parent is usually tired.  The daily tasks of parenting — meal preparation, bathing, diaper changing, tying shoelaces, and the like — are unusaually depleting.  Consequently, they don’t get done as often or as well as was once the case.  This will leave a young child feeling abandoned and lonely.  Older children will feel that nobody cares for their needs.  If the parent’s depression gets to the point that the child hears threats of suicide, then we can add terror the list of emotions he or she is feeling.

    What can you do to help your children through divorce?  For starters, tell your children what is going to happen: where everyone will live, where they will go to school, how they will be cared for.  Assure them that they will have access to and time with each parent.  Tell them that the purpose of the divorce is to try to make things better.  Tell them, in general but clear terms, why the divorce is happening, without hurling accusations at anyone.  Assure your children that it is not their fault.  You can let your child know that you are sad and that you regret the breakup of the family, and be sure to tell them that it is all right to love their other parent.  The best thing you can do for your children is to stop fighting.  If you can do nothing else for your children in the midst of your divorce, at least do this.  A fight requires at least two people; you can stop a fight all by yourself.

    Just as you may need to seek help for yourself, seeking help for your children is also appropriate.  It is usually important to let their teachers know they are going through a stressful time; teachers can be of great help to your children and to you.  If you would like a list of referrals for therapists who work with children, email Info@TheLawCollaborative.com.

    Children In Divorce

    One day I decided to indulge myself in a personalized license plate frame for my car. A salesman explained to me how much room I could use for whatever sentiment I wanted to express to fellow drivers. I chose, ‘No Court Divorce. Where the child comes first.’ That phrase has, over the years of my practice, become my professional motto.

    When couples start having trouble in their marriages, the emotional impact is so great that the children and their needs seem to go into eclipse. Sometimes things are so disrupted for a season that children no older than nine or ten find themselves taking care of a distraught parent. No dependent child should ever, under any circumstances, have to take care of a parent.

    I learned about the problems of children in divorce gradually and haphazardly as my law practice grew. My perspective was limited until I attended a seminar conducted by Judith Wallerstein in the early eighties. Through her influence, I began to see the bigger picture of what actually happens in the homes of the people who are my clients. Her book Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce, coauthored with Joan Berlin Kelly, is a landmark.

    There is nothing a divorcing parent – or any parent, for that matter – can do to shield a child completely from pain or injury. But there is a lot parents can learn that will keep them from contributing to the child’s pain and injury. And every parent can learn to help a child deal with pain appropriately and to grow through it to great maturity.

    One of the ways parents can help their children is by having a peaceful divorce.  Collaborative divorce uses licensed therapists as divorce coaches to help couples deal with the emotional divorce, so that their children don’t have to.  Each spouse has their own coach who will help them examine and understand their feelings and assist with face-to-face meetings with the other spouse.  The coach helps the client state their needs and desires in ways that make them easier for their partner to hear.  The coach helps divorcing couples to understand and suitably respond to each other’s needs and desires, process and express difficult feelings,  identify and appropriately respond to triggers that may derail communication and they assist the entire family in processing the changes inherent in a divorce. The divorce coach helps the children by helping the parents work together effectively to plan the family’s future.  They help the attorneys work together productively, and help the parties achieve a divorce settlement that is fair, fast and economical.

    When divorcing couples negotiate amicably, communicate effectively and co-parent peacefully, their children will thrive. Divorce is painful, but it doesn’t have to leave scars.

    Checklist For Divorcing Parents

    1.  Tell your children what is going to happen: where everyone will live, where they will go to school, how they will be cared for.

    2.  Assure them that they will have access to and time with each parent.

    3.  Tell them that the purpose of the divorce is to try to make things better.

    4.  Tell them, in general but clear terms, why the divorce is happening, without hurling accusations at anyone.  Tell them it is not their fault.

    5.  Let them know of your sadness and regret at the breakup of the family.

    6.  Tell them that it is all right to love the other parent.

    7.  Stop fighting.  If you can do nothing else for your children in the midst of your divorce, at least do this. A fight requires at least two people; you can stop a fight all by yourself.

    8.  Just as you may need to seek help for yourself, seeking help for your children is also appropriate.  It is usually important to let their teachers know they are going through a stressful time; teachers can be of great help to your children and to you.

    If you’d like some referrals for therapists who work with children and families, email Info@TheLawCollaborative.com.