Most parents sincerely intend to do what is best for the children, especially during a divorce. Unfortunately for the children, all too often the parents do not agree between themselves what really is best for the kids. Such disagreements frequently lead to conflict. The conflict, in turn, causes stress, and the stress causes harm.
That harm can manifest itself in any number of ways: Feelings of sadness, anger, or guilt; a drop in academic performance; lashing out at others; and, in extreme instances, changes in physical health or appearance. While the physical harm might only be temporary, the emotional damage done to the children by the conflict and stress of divorce can extend into the children’s interpersonal relationships throughout their adult lives.
Ironically, in most contested divorces, children have very little influence over either the process or the outcome. To put this in perspective, each parent typically has a professional advocate dedicated exclusively to representing that person’s interests. Whether in court or at the negotiating table, the parents’ voices are heard loudly and clearly through their respective advocates.
In contrast, in contested divorces, the children’s voices, if they are heard at all, are usually filtered through one of the following:
- The parents’ own perceptions and opinions;
- An impersonal, highly regulated forensic custody evaluation that focuses more on comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the parents than on the needs of the children;
- A series of interviews by an untrained guardian or attorney ad litem; or
- A single, brief conversation between the child and an untrained judge at the courthouse.
None of these methods provide unfiltered feedback from the children by a neutral, trained psychologist or licensed professional counselor skilled in interviewing children in a safe, comfortable environment. Additionally, each of the options listed can inadvertently cause collateral harm to the child during the process of gathering information from the children.
Thankfully, there is a better way that is starting to be utilized by discerning parents confronted by divorce. It starts with choosing to divorce differently. A Collaborative Divorce process offers the parents a non-adversarial method to navigate the complex issues associated with divorce. As it relates to the children who are caught up in the divorce, parents using the Collaborative Divorce process can choose to give their children a voice using a specially trained licensed mental health professional who serves as a “Child Specialist” during the divorce.
The Child Specialist meets with the children in a neutral, age-appropriate manner in a safe, comfortable environment over time to gain valuable insights about the children’s true interests and needs. This information, which is gleaned directly from the children without being colored by parental biases or tainted by well-intended but improper questioning techniques used in litigation, can then be relayed to the parents within the Collaborative Divorce process in a manner that enables the parents to make informed choices based on better information. Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, is that the children feel heard without being further traumatized in the process.