Children growing up in a reasonably normal life will have some tough experiences. From those experiences they will learn and grow. Children are able to recover from many types of negative experiences and be none the worse for wear. Unfortunately, a high-conflict child custody experience isn’t likely to be one of the experiences. Child custody fights are often prolonged, always full of contentiousness, and the level of ill-will felt by one or both parties cannot always be masked. These experiences can adversely affect children for a lifetime.
In no particular order, and you will recognize some as significantly more detrimental than some others, children can expect to experience:
- Significant loss of contact and interaction with one parent.
- Hearing one or both parents speak poorly of the other.
- A reduced standard of living in one or both homes.
- See a parent arrested or falsely accused of hurting them or others.
- Multiple relocations, either locally or long distance.
- Loss of participation in many types of extracurricular activities due to logistics or financial issues.
- Interviews by authorities involved in the litigation including the possibility of police, custody evaluators, lawyers, guardians, parental coordinators, counselors, child protective services, etc.
The bottom line is that some measure of innocence is lost forever. The more conflict, the greater likely loss of innocence is suffered in a high-conflict child custody matter. It takes a great deal of effort and discipline to minimize the negative impact on the children. Yes, even if just one of the two parents is staying focused on the children’s well-being, great positive outcomes can result. Of course, the level of your involvement in their lives may be impaired by a court’s ruling regarding child custody. However, even limited parenting time can yield positive results.
The most important thing you can do is protect the children from hearing or experiencing anything that they’re not specifically required to. That’s not to say they should be kept completely in the dark. Children are smart, intuitive, and pay a lot more attention to their environment than we often give them credit for. This is especially true when the safety and comfort of their world that once was an intact family has been broken apart. Discussions should be very limited and age-appropriate so as to not overburden them with worry or anxiety. Explaining that you and your ex-partner “don’t see eye-to-eye” and “require the help of the courts” to work out the problems is most definitely an effort to shield them from the harsh realities. Still, it’s that softer delivery that can keep them calm during such tumultuous times and, even more importantly, they’ll remember who worked to keep them from experiencing the worst – which is what child custody fights can bring out in even the best people.
Your children require their parents to provide them with safety, security, and love. Remember this when you feel yourself losing your temper. Remember this when you feel harsh words welling up inside you when something bad happens or you’re delivered bad news and the kids are nearby. Stifle the urge to blurt out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the children. They’re ill-equipped to handle all that.
Be the parent that offers them a safe haven from the child custody storm. While they will almost always suffer some negative results from their family breaking apart, they do grow up. When they do, you’ll want them to remember that you provided them a place to feel safe from all of the madness, even if your ex-partner fails in this regard. Your relationship with the children will strengthen over time as a result, even if your contact is limited.