When you do divorce, act like an adult

Children and Divorce

The well-being of children in a divorce or separation is the most essential aspect of any divorce. Although most couples believe children’s well-being is one of the most important factors to consider in a divorce, a great percentage of parents that divorce or separate see conflict as an unavoidable part of the process and are determined to fight battles in court.

From time to time one comes across an stubborn parent who is incapable of objectivity when considering what is best for the child. It may well be that you do not like your partner, but the child’s view of the parent is different. He/she will have love and trust for that person, capable of transcending even the most dreadful scenes that may have been witnessed.

Unfortunately it happens often that one parent use the mechanisms of the law in a unlawful manner in an attempt to “legally abduct” or alienate a child by making false allegations against or about the other parent.  Often one would find that a parent will for example falsely accuses the other parent of sexually molesting the child or accusing the other parent of emotional abuse towards the child. In a recent matter a mother who was the custodian parent brought an application for a protection order against the father on behalf of their 8 year old daughter because according to her the father abused the child emotionally, when the father in fact only disciplined the child. The father was trying to make telephonic contact with his daughter for days but the mother frustrated the contact by not answering the phone and replying to his sms messages. When the father eventually did manage to speak to his daughter he disciplined her over the phone for not contacting him. The child burst out in tears and the mother used the incident as the basis for a protection order against the father for alleged emotional abuse of the child. The court granted an interim protection order in the father’s absence and the father was only able to see his child under supervision, previously the father had contact with his child every alternate weekend. A social worker was then appointed as well as a psychologist to investigate. Needless to say the child was dragged through court appearances at the Children’s court.

A child prevented from seeing a parent, they still love will eventually turn the resentment against the one trying to enforce the unenforceable. Parents often fail to comprehend the impact on the children of the conflict in their relationship. The adults in the child’s life, can make the divorce and separation experience for a child much less harmful by being aware of several ways to help the child:

The child must feel and experience unconditional love from each parent.

The child must feel free of fault for the divorce and separation.

The child must feel that each parent respects the rights of the other parent.

The child must feel that he/she will be okay after the divorce and separation.

The child must feel that each parent will be okay after the divorce and separation.

Children sense and feel their parent’s emotions and especially the parent’s emotions toward one another. During a divorce and separation, adults experience some very strong and difficult emotions. It is difficult for a human being to understand how he/she could have so much love and passion for another person at one point in time, and then later have so much disdain and even hatred for that same person. It is okay for parents to talk to the child about the fact that they don’t love each other any more  but the child must hear, sense, and feel that while the parents don’t love each other any more and don’t want to live in the same house, they do respect each other’s rights as a parent to the child. For example, both parents should encourage the child to spend time with the other parent, to respect to the other parent, to obey the other parent, and to love the other parent. This can be very difficult when a parent thinks the other is making poor decisions.

The goal for divorced or separated parents should always be to maintain the best co-parenting relationships possible by moving past previous relationship issues and focusing on children’s well-beings. Conflict within a relationship or marriage where there are children involved or after a divorce or separation is the most harmful thing parents can do for their children’s development. If children go through their parents’ divorce, they have lost some access to both their parents to an extent. If the parental combat continues, the children have not only lost that access, they are still involved in that conflict and it harms children. Focusing on the children instead of the relationship problems can help divorced couples to be better parents, not messed up parents.

Bertus Preller

Family Law Attorney

Bertus Preller & Associates Inc – Cape Town

Twitter: bertuspreller

Web: http://www.divorceattorney.co.za

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The Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children

More and more scientific information is being accumulated about the long-term effects that a divorce has on children. Until quite recently, most of what we knew was about the immediate or the so-called short-term effects of divorce, but long-term studies are providing more insights about the effects of divorce on the formation of intimate relationships and marriages in adulthood.

The major finding that gets the most attention is the slightly increased likelihood that children of a divorce will also divorce one day.

One interesting new report on the long-term effects of divorce on intimate relationships was conducted in Finland and reported in the Journal of Family Psychology (2011). A group of scientists at the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the University of Helsinki conducted a 16-year follow-up study of 1471 teenagers in one Finnish community. Ulla Mustonen and colleagues were surveyed the intimate relationships of these adults at 32 years of age and the role that parent-child relationships may have played in their adult relationships.

In keeping with past research, they found that children with divorced parents were somewhat more likely to be separated or divorced in young adulthood. Additionally, young women whose parents divorced were also less likely to have been married. Surprisingly, parental divorce showed no predictive relationship with divorce for young men.

On the other hand, there were a number of important findings about the ways in which parental divorce really affected young women. Though parental divorce itself did have a direct effect on young women’s chances of divorce, the major effect of divorce on young women was the mother-daughter relationship in adolescence. Parental divorce tended to undermine the mother-daughter relationship; however, when a positive relationship was maintained, this resulted in better self-esteem and satisfaction with social support in young adulthood, which contributed to better intimate relationships.

This finding means that one of the key factors in fostering the long-term well-being of children of divorce is through strengthening positive parent-child relationships. For this study, a positive parent-child relationship was more important for women than men, but the importance of these adolescent relationships should not be overlooked as we think about programs and policies to foster the long-term health of children.

These findings highlight a key direction for future research on the effects of divorce on children. The mere finding that these children may be more at-risk of difficulties should no longer occupy so much of our attention. The important work is understanding the factors within relationships and family process that contribute to these outcomes and identifying opportunities to buffer the negative effects while building on the positive factors. Much progress in improving children’s well-being is possible and deserving of more attention.

Article appeared in Huffington Post

New Research Gives Insights into Guidance about Parenting Plans

New Research Gives Insights into Guidance about Parenting Plans

Is shared parenting the best arrangement for kids? Should infants and toddlers be shuttled between two homes? Is it important to include children in decisions about care and contact? These are just some of the difficult questions facing parents, attorneys, judges, mediators and others who are involved in navigating children through the divorce process.

Recently, several numbers of reports have been released that summarize the state of the research on parental issues. The results are surely not simple, but they provide some really helpful insights into what parents need to consider in managing parenting following a divorce.

Marsha Pruett, Smith College of Social Work, provides a general set of guidelines for children at different ages. She notes that children at different ages have varying needs and differing abilities to navigate through and cope with the variations in changing families. She notes further that equal time in parenting is not always the best arrangement for families. She also reminds parents, “It is the quality of time and parenting – not the quantity – that is more highly related to closeness between parent and child.” According to her, “The absolute amount of parenting time should be emphasized less than a plan that allows for a schedule that enables both parents to feel and act engaged and responsible.”

A particularly challenging divorce situation is one in which the children are very young–infants and toddlers. There has been much debate about the appropriateness of overnight stays and shared parenting arrangements in general. Jennifer McIntosh has been studying this issue that provides a good summary of the research evidence to date. There is lots of evidence that parenting during the first 3 years of a child’s life is critical to health development, particularly in how child manage their emotions and cope with stress. McIntosh’s summary of the current evidence is that children in the first 3 years of life should not involve overnight care in two homes. She also notes that young children’s attachment to the non-residential parent can be achieved through regular contact that involves “warm, lively, attuned caregiving.” In short, children’s development depends less on whether or not children sleep in two homes, than on the quality of the parenting.

There are three primary ways parents can help insure that their children have fewer difficulties following divorce writes, JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, “the degree and duration of hostile conflict, the quality of parenting provided over time, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.” She summarizes the important research findings that focus on each of these factors. She emphasized that it is important for children to have rules and routines that give them a sense of security. Likewise, they need to know that they are loved and cared for by hearing the words, but also by actions that reflect active and engaged talk and play. And they will thrive better when their parents manage their own strong emotions and conflicts. She recommends that parents reframe their relationship to a more business-like model in which the goal is the well-being of the children. For high-conflict parents she describes a model of parallel parenting that can best serve children and minimize conflict.

Source: Huffington Post

The Effects of Divorce on Children

The Effects of Divorce on Children

As a family law attorney I am involved on a daily basis in stories about divorce or care and contact issues between parents and children and many times I see how the loss of a parent has affected the lives of children. Although my approach is  always clinical, I’m often saddened by these stories, but in awe as to how many of these adult children have risen above their loss to develop an emotionally healthy outlook on life.

It was with great interest that I watched psychotherapist, Gary Neuman, who appeared on one of Oprah’s shows. Gary interviewed two young children, a brother and sister; they were abandoned by their mother when she divorced her husband, their father. Both children were crying, and yet were remarkably articulate in their description of their thoughts and feelings regarding their mother’s abandonment of them due to divorce. While parents do divorce each other, they don’t divorce their children.

Children nonetheless are the ones who live out the divorce because their day-to-day routines, not to mention their emotional lives, are so deeply affected by it. And of course, the impact of being estranged or abandoned by a parent as a result of divorce can have far reaching and long lasting consequences on their lives. A number of experts on children of divorce question whether the abandonment or estrangement necessarily leads to lifelong behavioural and emotional scarring. What they do find is that one parent’s love, nurturing, and support, can go a long way to helping a child overcome many of the emotional and behavioural issues that otherwise could ensue.

It is a fact that divorce can affect the closeness of the parent versus child relationship for a number for reasons and can take a serious emotional toll on the child. Joan Kelly, one of the America’s foremost experts on children of divorce, defines an estranged relationship between a parent and child as a diminished, thinned out, and less meaningful bond. She says that 24% of children in the United States from divorced families are seeing a parent once a year, if at all and one may assume that this figure is even bigger in South Africa.

In his research, Robert Emery Director of the Centre for Children, Families, and the Law at the University of Virginia, found that non-residential fathers saw their children only 4 times per month following divorce, and about 20% of children had no contact at all with their fathers 2-3 years after divorce. Other research have concluded that, many students of divorced parents who had a limited relationship with their fathers while growing up stated that they would have liked more contact with their fathers during their adolescence, would have liked to have been closer, and wanted more time together. It is a fact that a parent’s rejection of a child or a parent’s inconsistent presence could drastically affect a child’s self esteem.

One good parent who is loving and nurturing can overcome the negative effects of losing the relationship with the other parent. While the emotional impact on a child resulting from the loss of a parent’s relationship could be significant, it doesn’t have to be disastrous.

The following advice should be considered:

  • Family is not a just about biology. Find role models who will support and care about you. Be there for your kids.
  • Be reliable, pay maintenance, show your love, and do what you say you are going to do.
  • Provide help. Initiate the conversation about their loss of the relationship with their other parent.
  • Lend an understanding ear. Don’t lecture, and don’t feel you have to have the perfect answer.
  • Honesty. Find help for what to say to your children if you don’t know what to say. Children need to be heard.
  • You can’t control what the other parent does; you can only control yourself.
  • To help your children get through their pain, ensure that they feel heard and listened to –that gives them value.

You want your children to perceive themselves with their own goals and aspirations, independent of their status as the children of divorce.

Bertus Preller is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney in Cape Town and has more than 20 years experience in most sectors of the law and 13 years as a practicing attorney. He specializes in Family law and Divorce Law at Abrahams and Gross Attorneys Inc. in Cape Town. Bertus is also the Family Law expert on Health24.com and on the expert panel of Law24.com and is frequently quoted on Family Law issues in newspapers such as the Sunday Times and Business Times. His areas of expertise are Divorce Law, Family Law, Divorce Mediation, Parenting Plans, Parental Responsibilities and Rights, Custody (care and contact) of children, same sex marriages, unmarried fathers rights, domestic violence matters, international divorce law, digital rights, media law and criminal law.

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