From the Therapist's Desk

RISK AND RESILIENCE: Stop the Conflict

Some parents keep the conflict in the family home going because they refuse to move out. They are concerned about the STATUS QUO in terms of child custody and property. So they stay in the family home, refusing to move, so that they can tell the judge "but your honor I was the one who took my child to the doctor last week!" Of course that parent is not going to tell the judge that, until last week, the parent didn't even know the name of the doctor. Or the parent is focused on property "I don't want to be accused of abandoning the home because it will be used against me!" Or the parent is focused on punishing the other parent for causing the family breakup. 

There are laws in place to protect parental rights when a parent leaves the home.  The single most important protection you can offer your children is to stop the conflict. Once the conflict is stopped or reduced, both parents have a responsibility to the child to ensure contact with the other parent. It is a parental responsibility  to reach out regularly and respectfully to either offer or request time with the children.  If you cannot exchange the children without tension, use a safe exchange location like Hannah's House where you can do your drop offs and pickups without any contact and with the support of a professional. 

Both parents should use email to communicate offers and requests for parenting time. Email is the best way to maintain a record of contact for the Court, which could be helpful if your coparenting partner is continuing the conflict. And email is a good way to make sure you are keeping your communication brief, clear, and focused only on possible days and times. Check yourself carefully to make sure you are not using emails about coparenting to judge, preach, chastise, or blend any adult concerns with coparenting needs. 

There are also more robust communication methods specifically designed for parents sharing children between two homes: www.talkingparent.com and www.ourfamilywizard.com.  The first is free and the second is $99 annually for each parent. Sometimes the Court orders that parents utilize one these methods but they can be done voluntarily.

The Court makes custody decisions based on several factors. One of those is the basic understanding that children need close and continuing contact with both of their parents. It is in the best interest of the child to have the love, nurture, and care of both parents and their extended families. 

Moms and Dads set the tone for positive parenting and cooperative coparenting by the way they leave the home and the way they communicate about the children. from the very beginning of the separation.  Be thoughtful every time you begin to communicate with your coparent. Keep the focus on the children and on your parenting time. Parents have a choice about whether to continue to expose their children to hostility and conflict in the family. Choose calm and peace for the sake of the children.

Say yes whenever possible. If your coparent asks for financial assistance for activities, school, daycare, dental or medical care, or therapy/counseling, JUST SAY YES! Don't say no because you don't want it used against you - "it will set a precedent!" Yes, it probably will. A precedent that you will support your child without being ordered by a Court to do so; that you will put your child first! Familiarize yourself with the laws about legal custody and best interest of the child so that you feel more confident. Attend free classes on divorce and family law. Consult with a professional mediator.

Instead of automatically retaining an attorney, start with a mediator. There are an abundance of excellent mediators who are also attorneys and can help with the entire process. Mediation keeps the costs of a family breakup down in every way possible: emotional, psychological, physical, and financial. Hiring an attorney starts a path to litigation and an adversarial approach to your family breakup that may be difficult to stop.

And the fighting has to stop, for the sake of the child. Adults get second chances in life. Children often do not get that second chance when the chaos and conflict in the family doesn't stop in time. Instead, they grow up in a war zone and the damage is done. Parents cannot go back and protect that child's physical, emotional, psychological, and neurological development. If you start with mediation, there is a better chance to stop the conflict and find a more peaceful resolution process.

Parents have a chance every day to protect their children from the adult drama. Parents have a chance every day to affirm the child's need to have a relationship with both parents. Parents have a chance every day to take the high road and be a moral, ethical, and kind person.

So put your child first. That means finding peaceful resolutions on the adult concerns as quickly as possible. If you choose litigation over mediation, make sure that is absolutely essential for the immediate protection of your children and not to soothe your own hurt ego or injured feelings. If you become intent on litigation to "win" a war and "prove" that you are right, there is absolutely no question that your child will suffer. Make your parenting decisions in the context of parental responsibility to safeguard your child's right to have a childhood rather than your need for revenge. 

After all, protecting your child's right to a joyful and loving childhood is the most important responsibility a parent has.