By Tobias Desjardins, LCSW
SECTION ONE: Laying a Foundation for Change
Understanding the Stakes
Understanding what is at stake in a custody battle is critical. As a child custody mediator and therapist specializing in higher-conflict child custody cases, I’ve learned that most parents are unaware of how high the stakes are. They fail to realize that how they handle themselves, even if the other parent won’t play fair, can mean the difference between their child growing up to be strong and self-reliant, or an angry substance abuser. While this may sound extreme, I assure you it is not.
No parent gets into a custody dispute with the intention of going broke and jeopardizing the welfare of his or her kids. But losing one’s life savings and putting children at risk, psychologically if not physically, is often exactly what happens. This is almost always the case when one parent decides not to play fair in order to seek revenge on the other. In this chapter, we will look at the real costs associated with a custody dispute.
The Human Costs: How Does Separation or Divorce Affect Kids?
Research into the impact of separation and divorce on kids reveals that most children do fairly well after an initial adjustment period, so long as the following four factors are in place:
- Sound parenting
- An effective shared-custody plan
- Little or no exposure to parental conflict
- Consistent quality time with the non-residential parent
When these factors are present, separation or divorce is more likely to promote resilience than emotional or behavioral problems. On the other hand, when these factors are absent, problems are likely to occur. Determining the exact effects a custody battle will have on a child is almost impossible to do. It is a simpler process to determine which kids are more at risk than others.
One of the best predictors that a child will adjust well is whether his or her parents were able to resolve conflicts in a healthy way before their breakup. When absent, parents tend to bring their combative ways with them into the courtroom where the proceedings quickly turn unproductive if not disastrous.
Other risk factors for kids include:
- Violence—history of domestic violence and child abuse
- Drugs—active parental substance abuse
- Change—multiple changes of residence and school
- Friends—absence of peer support
- Money—degree of financial hardship caused by breakup
- New partners—introducing new adult partners to kids too soon after breakup
- Loss of contact—little or no contact with the non-residential parent
- Mental health—debilitating parental mental illness
If a child is struggling with any of the risk factors mentioned, he or she is more likely to struggle with serious long-term problems such as:
- Intense anger—which may be displayed at home, school and in the community
- School problems—including poor grades and problems witht eachers and other students
- Substance abuse—more likely to experiment with, and abuse, drugs
- Mental health problems—such as depression and anxiety
- Legal trouble—more likely to get in with the wrong crowd and get into legal trouble
- Teen pregnancy and sexual diseases—more likely to start having sex at a younger age and to engage in unsafe sexual practices
- Running away—most teens who run away are from broken homes
- Risk of suicide—kids may start thinking about suicide when they feel that their situation is unbearable and is unlikely to improve
These are the human stakes connected with fighting over custody. If your children aren’t suffering from the nasty side-effects of your dispute, be thankful. But also be careful to look deeply. Seeing the problems our kids are having can be more difficult than it seems. Some children are reluctant to reveal how they really feel. Others may take on the “good child” role, driven subconsciously by the fear of being abandoned. In their minds, if one of their parents can be sent away for not being “good,” perhaps the same thing could happen to him or her.
For those of you who see several of the risk factors above in your children, there is good news. While your kids might currently be on the wrong path, there is a great deal you can do to turn things around, even if your ex won’t play fair. Ways to do just that will be presented in each of the following chapters in this book.
All of the proceeds from the sale of this book are being donated to the non-profit International Center for Peaceful Shared Custody.
|A New Way to Win: How to Resolve Your Child Custody Dispute Without Giving Up, Giving In, or Going Broke|