By Sean Smallwood, Esq.
Over the last decade in my practice as a family law and divorce attorney I have seen and litigated just about every type of custody issue that you can imagine.
I have seen allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual molestation, and even attempted murder, however, the thing that that appalls me the most is the utter disregard that so many divorcing parents have for the permanent emotional damage that they cause to their children by their behavior during divorce.
Many have said that when two people are going through a life altering event such as divorce that their personalities change and their brain starts working in a way that is uncharacteristic of their normal function.
In my experience, I believe this to be very true. I prefer to call it temporary insanity. With all of the emotional angles of a divorce such as betrayal, jealousy, and hurt the emotional side of a person completely takes over and controls all thought, replaces all reason, and dominates a person’s conduct.
This means that people are not thinking and acting logically. This is also why so many divorce cases turn into highly contested messes that cost tens of thousands of dollars and stretch on for years.
When the Divorce Becomes Contested The Children Loose
If the only problem with divorce was the fact that people are hurt and temporarily act out of character then I would just chalk it up to normal human behavior and not be overly concerned.
However, everything that I’ve described up to this point only sets the stage for the true heartbreak of divorces involving children.
This is because when divorcing parents are completely driven by negative emotion and all logic is out to lunch, they are in serious jeopardy of completely losing any comprehension of the conduct and words they are unleashing in the presence of their children.
They will have terrible screaming arguments with their spouse in front of the children. A divorcing parent may be so upset and enraged with their spouse that all they can think about is their anger toward the spouse. When this happens be careful because you may not realize how stressed and afraid the child is becoming only a few feet away.
Other divorcing parents will speak directly to children about the other parent in such a horrible negative way as to forever poison that child’s view of their other parent. Though this may satisfy a temporary need for emotional validation in your brain it is absolutely devastating to children.
This is classic alienating behavior and the judges in my area of the country have zero patience for it and absolutely reduce a parent’s time-sharing when this type of conduct takes place. That means it is a pitfall that divorcing parents need to watch out for in order to avoid hurting their custody case.
Having communication with children during a divorce that is negative about the other parent has been proven time and again by psychological professionals to cause permanent emotional damage to children. Stop, and re-read the previous sentence and repeat it to anyone you know who is going through a divorce because this is so important.
The danger posed to children in these situations is especially hazardous because our children are being injured in ways that cannot be seen with the naked eye. If our behavior caused our kids cuts or bruises, then we would stop and realize how ridiculous we were behaving. But in divorce we don’t nee the injuries that we inflict on our kids, so we never stop and think and just continue the conduct.
One judge in my local jurisdiction told one parent “you have engaged in repeated systematic abuse of your child by sharing the details of the litigation with them and by speaking so negatively to them about the other parent”. When a judge says that to you in trial it is never a good thing.
I have seen both husbands and wives engage in this type of behavior and it is to be avoided at all costs. As hard as it is to muster up something positive to say about the other parent, it must be done in order to protect children.
This is because our children are learning how to have relationships with other humans by watching us. We would not want to teach our kids that a healthy relationship consists of screaming and fighting.
There are tremendous amounts of valuable materials at childcenterdivorce.com as well as on my blog. I personally believe that the damage caused to children during divorce can be dramatically reduced if the parents just stop and think about protecting their children from knowledge of the litigation and protecting their children from any negative talk about either parent.
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Sean Smallwood is an Orlando divorce attorney, a blogger, and father of six. When he is not in court or chasing around kids he spends his spare time educating people about the importance of maintaining sanity throughout the divorce process.