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How to Help Your Child through a Custody Battle

50% of children in America will experience their parents’ divorce and another half of that 50% will go on to experience the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. With such a high percentage of children exposed to divorce, it is important for parents to take the time to ensure that they are prioritizing their children’s emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. This is especially important when a divorce isn’t a clean one and the child becomes the subject of a legal battle. Here are a few ways that parents should act to ensure that their child feels safe and secure during a battle for their custody.

Don’t Trash Talk the Other Spouse

During a divorce, it can be hard to withhold the resentment both partner’s feel for each other. This is especially true when the divorce ends in a fight over who should hold custody over a child. While they shouldn’t bottle up these feelings, it’s also important remember that the child is often very aware that they are the product of both parents. Talking bad about the other spouse in their presence, therefore, can hurt their sense of self-worth. It can also be damaging to that child’s trust in both parents if they don’t feel the same way, and pressure them into pretending to hate a parent they love in order to appease the other. Even if the divorce isn’t amicable, parents should behave civilly when speaking with or in earshot of their children.

Don’t Try to Spy on the Other Spouse Through the Child

Depending on where both parties stand at the time of divorce, the spouse may be tempted to use their children to one-up the other person. In a custody battle, gathering dirt on the opposite spouse can be helpful for winning the battle and proving the other parent as an unsuitable guardian. Whether out of good or selfish intentions, parents may be tempted to use their child to gain information about their ex. Children are already put in the middle during a custody battle, so they shouldn’t feel like they are being used as a go-between for both parents. Doing this puts the child in an emotionally damaging position. No matter how they feel about a parent, asking them to sabotage either of their parents creates internal conflict and forces them to choose sides, often before they are sure of their own feelings. Under no circumstances should a child be asked to spy on or sabotage the case of either parent in a court case. In the event of child abuse where a child may be called to testify against a parent, then a child psychologist and a family attorney should be consulted about what is appropriate to ask the child before and after the hearing.

Listen and Discuss the Process Openly

Children, by nature of their age, often aren’t exposed to as many harsh realities as adults, and we as adults often feel obligated to keep it that way. However, keeping the child in the dark is much worse than speaking openly about a difficult situation. Children notice more than we think, and leaving them with only parts of the story leaves them in confusion and sometimes even fear of the outcome of the court case. During this time, parents should talk honestly and openly, without projecting their own emotions into the conversation. Children should come out of the conversation learning what a divorce means, how the family will change, and what that means for the child. While the discussion should be open and honest, however, it is still important to realize that this is not an opportunity to bash your ex, but rather to help your child come to better terms with the facts and realities of the case.

Consult with a Child Psychologist

During a divorce, the entire family is under tremendous emotional stress. Children’s emotions can range from feelings of abandonment to anger or guilt. While parents can do their best to council and guide their child through these feelings, it’s best for them to seek the services of a professional. This not only gives the child access to professional help with difficult feelings and events, it also gives them a neutral third party from which to get the facts of the case without bias or judgement. Children will also often be more open to speaking with a psychologist about their concerns than with their parents, as children may worry about how their parents will react to their thoughts. A child psychologist can also give council to the parents about how to discuss the case with the child in a healthy way, and how to work with the child to accept the outcome of the case.

Divorces are difficult for everyone involved to experience. Parents need to make sure that their children are properly protected during this time, especially when the child becomes the subject of a legal battle. With these strategies, parents can help their children overcome the fear and anxiety that comes with a divorce and prepare for the change in their relationships.

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