Divorce is one of the top five most stressful life events a person can experience, along with the death of a loved one and a major illness. It has an undeniable impact on the well-being of the spouses who are splitting up. But what about the children?
The way parents handle their divorce has an enormous impact on how their children respond. Divorced parents who mitigate conflict and avoid nasty child custody battles can reduce the stress and trauma for their children.
This discussion explores the ways children are affected by custody conflicts and provides tips to resolve custody matters peacefully and effectively for you and your children.
Three Factors Affect How Children Process Divorce
Research shows that a child’s ability to adjust after divorce depends on a few key factors:
- The nature of the parents’ relationship before divorce
- The parents’ ability to focus on the child’s needs before, during, and after divorce
- The intensity and duration of parental conflict
Emotional and Physical Impact of Parental Conflict on Children
Experts believe the primary indicator of a child’s post-divorce adjustment is conflict between their parents. Children exposed to bitter, high-conflict custody battles may experience physical and emotional struggles, including:
- Low self-esteem
- Acting out in school
- Anxiety and depression
- Feelings of hurt, anger, and frustration
- Fighting with peers and parents
- Headaches, stomachaches, and other symptoms
- Disruptions in eating and sleeping
- Immature or hyper-mature behaviors
- Sense of abandonment, especially if they are estranged from a parent
- Preoccupation with the divorce, the hope of reconciliation, or the need for information
The Surprising Toll of Joint Physical Custody on Some Children
A joint physical custody arrangement in which the parents have equal time with the child is often the goal for family courts. On the surface, 50/50 custody seems like the fair solution.
Many divorced parents are so intent on getting equal time with the child that they are willing to go to battle for it. But parents may want to reflect on what is fair versus what is truly best for their child’s well-being. Equal shared custody comes with unexpected hurdles for many youngsters.
Time Away from a Preferred Parent
It is common and even natural for a child to relate better to one parent over the other. They feel more natural and relaxed with the parent who is more aware of their needs and intuitively understands how to meet them.
When the family is together, it is much easier for the child to deal with this dynamic, because the comfort and security that parent provides is ever-present. When the parents split, the child misses that bond when they are with the other parent. Any cracks in the connection with the other parent become more pronounced and can leave the child feeling vulnerable and insecure.
The Child Parents the Parent
When parents get divorced and share custody, each takes on some of the responsibilities their ex-spouse once handled. The parent who once deferred to their ex-spouse to handle the lunch money, carpool, or music lessons has to get up to speed late in the game.
In some cases, a role reversal happens in which the child takes over these tasks and, in a way, assumes the parental role. Some parents depend on their child to fulfill their emotional needs as well, expecting them to comfort them during their struggles. This creates undue stress on a child who is already dealing with the impact of divorce.
The Stress of Constant Changes
On a practical level, the continual physical relocation between two households can be physically and mentally taxing for children as well. Now the child has to worry about whether they have their clothes and schoolwork, or if they left it at their Dad or Mom’s house.
They have to remember which house they are going to after school, and who is picking them up from practice or music lessons. Differences in the house rules and lifestyles can be quite stressful at a time when children need stability and security most of all.
Despite These Hurdles, Shared Custody Can Work
With all of that said, of course shared custody can work, and work well, when it is the best option to help the child thrive. Here are some tips to create a peaceful and practical custody arrangement and avoid painful custody battles:
Try mediation. Divorce conciliation or mediation is available for parents to negotiate custody terms out of court. If in mediation both parents are reasonable and willing to collaborate to create a fair and effective custody plan, a bitter custody battle can be avoided.
Discuss this option with your divorce lawyer and consider your ex-spouse and their willingness to cooperate. If you both step back and agree to do what is best for your child, mediation can be successful. It is worth a try. If it does not work, the divorce will still go to court.
Keep a positive attitude. Divorce is indeed painful, even if you are the spouse who wanted it. But it is so important for parents to keep their composure and focus on staying positive during the process. Consider working with a therapist to learn healthy coping skills that you can share with your children.
Try not to allow negative feelings about an ex-spouse to overshadow your interactions with your children. They are watching you, and how you manage difficulties will inform them how to respond to challenges in the future. Instead, confide in friends and family when you are feeling angry or disappointed with your ex-spouse.
Maintain good communication with the children. Although you do not want to share the ugly details of what went wrong in the marriage with your children, it is important to keep the communication flowing at every stage of the process. Children need to feel secure, and part of that comes from knowing what to expect.
Tell your children in an age-appropriate way why you are getting a divorce, how the process is going to work, and how the family structure is going to change. Check in with your child often and encourage them to ask questions and share their feelings. Reassure your child that as you work through custody issues, all of your decisions are being made with their best interests in mind.
Heated custody battles are not good for anyone involved. But in some situations, they are inevitable, specifically when a parent has concerns about their ex-spouse’s ability or willingness to meet their child’s emotional, physical, and financial needs. A consultation with a proven child custody lawyer is the first step to resolve your divorce matter.
Towson Child Custody Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, Help Clients Resolve Custody Disputes Peacefully and Effectively
Custody battles are just not good for children. That is a fact. The Towson child custody lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC, represent clients dealing with complex custody matters to ensure your child’s rights and interests come first. With the right legal team behind you, you can have a good outcome and a bright future after divorce. For more information and a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 443-589-0150. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.