How could loving your children more than you hate your ex affect your custody process?
“Love your children more than you hate your ex,” I tell every potential divorce and child custody client when I meet with them. While that phrase seems like a no-brainer on the surface, children can often become an afterthought during a contentious divorce. You and your ex-spouse are expending all your energy fighting over money, alimony, child support, who gets which assets, and who get which debts.
The issues that lead to divorce – money issues, infidelity, communication breakdown, or basic incompatibility are commonly cited as factors – often bleed over into the divorce itself and to the actual child-custody decision-making and proceedings. Unfortunately, the pain and anger that one spouse may have experienced because of the acts of the other can warp how the two soon-to-be-ex spouses view each other as co-parents.
Bad Parenting is Almost Never the Reason for Divorce
I frequently ask prospective clients to list the reasons why they (or their spouse) is seeking a divorce, and I rarely hear issues associated with the other spouse’s parenting style or involvement with the children as the cause of divorce. Obviously, there are situations where the child has been abused by one parent; in those situations, the fight to protect the child is entirely appropriate. However, the vast majority of child-custody cases during or after divorce are fought over one spouse saying that the other wasn’t involved enough.
Ironically, when divorcing spouses reach the phase of dealing with child custody, many of them “suddenly remember” that the other spouse is the worst parent in the world. Assuming, for argument’s sake, that the other parent is a “terrible parent,” I almost always ask how important the other parent’s involvement would be in the child’s life, and the “good parent” admits that ongoing involvement is important. Despite this admission, many of them still do everything possible to limit the other parent’s involvement with their children.
Past Conflict gets Dragged into the Child Custody Process
Emotional wounds the spouses inflicted upon each other during the marriage cause the pain, anger, and disdain to flare right back up during a custody case, and the children are pawns in this rehashing – or escalation – of old marital fights. Each party argues that they are “only trying to protect their children” from the other spouse, or that the other spouse’s “lack of involvement” with the children during the marriage should limit their interaction with the kids today. Invariably, all the sacrifices, hard-work, and hours spent with the children are instantly forgotten by the other spouse.
Bitter custody battles are often fought when pain and anger from the failed marriage bleed over into the decision-making process associated with custody. But, if the spouses are able to step back and look at the other spouse as a parent who loves their children – not the fire-breathing dragon that has taken over their memory – they remember that the other parent wasn’t around as much because they were busy working to support the family. They may also remember that the other spouse rushed from work each day to pick the kids up and help them with homework, or that one spouse may have given up their professional dreams and goals to be a parent.
Loving Your Children Means Ensuring a Strong Relationship With Their Other Parent
Love your children more than you hate your ex. Most parents know that the other parent should be involved in their children’s life. Having a strong, stable and loving environment between both parents is immensely important and is integral to the emotional and mental wellbeing of the child. When spouses take the position to view the other spouse as their child’s parent, it can change their perspective on what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. Loving your children enough to ensure that their relationship with their other parent is the focus is a hard thing to do. Letting some of the anger and pain unrelated to the child custody issues go is daunting. But your children should not be a casualty of the war of divorce.
7 Tips to Stop Your Children from Becoming Casualties of Your Custody Battle
Here are seven suggestions for learning to see your ex-spouse as the loving co-parent of your children rather than the former romantic partner who let you down so badly. To do this, you must love your children more than you hate your ex.
1. Make a realistic and honest list of who has primarily taken care of the children since birth. List it by year. With that list, also note what the other parent was doing at that time.
2. List the pros and cons regarding your children having equal time between both parents. Although hard, separate the obvious emotional strain you will experience from not being around your child while they are with the other parent.
3. Consider how your children view the other parent. Most children love both parents; your kids may need reassurance that it’s OK to continue to love their other parent after divorce.
4. Consider what impact not having a relationship with their other parent would have on your children. What effect would the lack of a meaningful relationship have on the child when the other parent is prevented from showing up to Daddy-Daughter Dance or Mother-Son brunch? How would your children feel about not being able to celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day with their other parent?
5. How would you view your actions if you were the other parent? Are you being reasonable?
6. How would your children view your actions 10 to 20 years from now? Would they resent you? Would they believe that you damaged or destroyed their relationship with the other parent?
7. Consider seeing a family therapist to help you work through custody issues amicably – or at least respectfully – with the other parent. The focus in this therapy setting is not to rehash the issues of the marriage or divorce, but to focus on co-parenting and creating a happy, healthy future for your children.
David McBride is a licensed attorney in the State of Louisiana and focuses heavily on family law cases that range from divorce to child custody.