While it was once popular opinion that divorce was unhealthy for children, modern psychologists now know that children can easily handle the separation of their parents if they're properly supported during the changes. However, sometimes one or both parents use the divorce as a form of abuse against the child. Find out what kind of divorce-related behavior crosses the line into abuse so you can avoid it and be as supportive as possible for your children.
After a painful divorce, it's tempting to tell your child about all the bad behaviors that made you split up with your spouse. Depending on your divorce contract, you may be breaking the law if it includes a clause to prevent disparagement. Bad mouthing or disparaging your former partner is an unfair tactic that puts the child in the uncomfortable position of believing what you're saying while still maintaining a loving relationship with their other parent. If you're worried about bad mouthing happening on the other side of the custody divide, consider having your lawyer file for a no disparagement clause, even if the divorce has already been finalized.
Speaking ill of your former spouse, whether you're telling the truth or exaggerating the details due to emotional pain, tends to lead to alienation. Other accidental or purposeful parental behaviors that lead to alienation include:
- Limiting contact outside of the custody agreement, such as phone conversations and emails
- Encouraging negative responses to the other parent when they're not based on a valid problem
- Failing to point out the positive aspects of a genuinely strained relationship between the child and the other parent. For example, the other parent's dedication to visiting every sports game even when they cancel on some visits with the child
- Allowing the child to control or cut off their contact with the other parent without a genuine reason for concern, such as abuse.
Unless there are concerns about the child's emotional or physical safety, they should be encouraged to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. This means you may need to overlook your own discomfort towards your former spouse and require your child to stick to the custody arrangement, even if they show a strong preference for you over their other parent.
Giving your child what they want is a great way to make them take your side in a clash between two parents, and it can easily become a form of abuse despite appearing quite benign. Too many divorced parents end up in a competition to see who can make the child prefer them by showering them with candy, toys, and extended bedtimes. Children need discipline and structure even more during a complicated life change like a divorce, so overindulgence during this time can result in serious behavioral issues as they get older.
A child is not a pawn to use to hurt your former spouse, but too many divorcees fall into this type of behavior without realizing it. Even when you have legitimate complaints with your ex-spouse over financial issues or their behavior towards you, the child should continue to have the same relationship with both parents until a court decision changes the custody arrangement. Refusing to let your child visit their other parent because of a lapsed child support payment is still a form of manipulation that will have long-lasting emotional effects.
Finally, turn to family members, friends, and therapists and not your children when the emotional burdens of divorce overwhelm you. It's fine to let your children know that you are sad or hurting, but avoid unburdening yourself to them because they are trying to process their own complicated feelings at the same time. Find a safe place for support outside of your home so you can give them the proper emotional support in return.
For more information, contact a divorce lawyer in your area.