Many of the couples I see in my divorce mediation practice have children. Not surprisingly, I find that some parents are more able than others to keep their conflict separate from their relationship with the children. Understandably, this is no small feat, given all of the emotions, anxieties and fears that can arise during this challenging transition from married to separated/divorced.
One of my goals throughout the mediation process is to help parents understand that the way they move through their conflict may affect their children’s lives – even years after a divorce is finalized. The results can be very damaging if one or both of the parents is very bitter or angry and continues to be so post-divorce.
I check in with my couples during each session to see how they’re doing generally – and also to ask how their kids are doing. Then, of course, when we’re discussing the specifics of the parenting arrangements and custody, I help them address the issues that come up based upon what’s best for their children.
One thing I’ve found very helpful in focusing parents on “the best interests of their children” is to give them a copy of the Children’s Bill of Rights*. The 12 points of this document provide a guide for the behavior of the parents with respect to their kids.
And, if the children are old enough to comprehend it, I suggest that it be shared with the kids as well. The list can become a vehicle for older children to more easily initiate a dialogue with their parents, allowing them to express their feelings and ask questions.
The points are presented from the perspective of the children, as the “rights” they are afforded. Here they are:
The right not to be asked to choose sides between their parents.
The right not to be told the details of the legal proceedings going on between their parents.
The right not to be told “bad things” about the other parent’s personality or character.
The right to privacy when talking to either parent on the telephone.
The right not to be cross-examined by one parent after spending time with the other parent.
The right not to be asked to be a messenger from one parent to the other.
The right not to be asked by one parent to tell the other parent untruths.
The right not to be used as a confidant regarding adult matters.
The right to express feelings, whatever those feelings may be.
The right to choose not to express certain feelings.
The right to be protected from parental “warfare.”
The right not to be made to feel guilty for loving both parents.
The practical effects of divorce can be difficult to work through and accept. By adhering to the Children’s Bill of Rights, parents can give their children the opportunity to move forward in the best way possible.
If you or someone you know could benefit from assistance in decision making during a divorce, contact Falmouth Mediation at 508-566-4159 for a free, no-obligation, private, confidential consultation. We will be happy to discuss the key details of your situation, address any concerns, and help you decide if divorce mediation would be beneficial.
*Source: NY State Unified Court System, Tompkins County Courts, and NY State Parent Education & Awareness Program