Divorce Your Spouse, But For the Sake of Your Children, Create or Preserve a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship

A judge from the state of Minnesota, Michael Haas, said the following in 2001.

“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault.

No matter what you think of the other party – or whatever your family thinks of the other party- these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an “idiot” his father is, or what a “fool” his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.

That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.

I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer.”

Wise words from a judge, but the sad part is that by the time a judge makes comments of that nature, the damage has been done. Sadly, many parents do not understand long-term impacts their divorce has on children and they are so focused on themselves that only a very small percentage have constructive divorces such through mediation or Collaborative Divorce. The nature of the parents’ relationship, pre and post-divorce, permanently impacts children.

See the work of Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist who triggered a national debate about the consequences of divorce by reporting that it hurt children more than previously thought. Much of the damage, however, can be mitigated by conscious parents who divorce with care and compassion.

A successful co-parenting arrangement depends on the child, the parents, and how the parents treat each other and their children. It matters whether the arrangements accurately reflect the needs and wishes of the child, but at the same time, the choices should not generally be left up to the children as that puts them in a very difficult place. It’s a complex undertaking. What works for a child at one age may be harmful to the same child at another developmental stage. One size can never fit all children or families. Children who are required to traverse a battleground between warring parents show serious symptoms that affect their physical and mental health. The research findings on how seriously troubled these children are and how quickly their adjustment deteriorates are very powerful. The bottom line that our studies show is that the legal form of custody is not what matters in the child’s welfare. Nor is there any study that shows the amount of time spent with a parent is relevant to psychological adjustment. 

Parents who spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight over the merits of joint or sole custody of their child are simply wasting their time and money. Litigation does not constructively address the emotions involved. Rather, it adds fuel to the fire. No model of custody or time-sharing determines how well children do after their parents’ divorce. Joint custody can work very well or poorly for the child. The same is true of sole custody with visitation. What matters is the mental health of the parents, the quality of the parent-child relationships, the degree of anger versus cooperation between the parents, plus the age, temperament, and flexibility of the child.

Divorce education and appropriate dispute resolution such as Collaborative Divorce and mediation can help parents do less destructive things to their children during and after the divorce. With offices throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve many family law disputes without the bitterness and acrimony engendered by the adversarial process.