Some parents choose to use their child as a weapon during divorce. Experts agree, it will inevitably come back to haunt the parent who does so – and might just destroy a kid’s well-being.

The good news is that most know better and do the right thing. They understand that there are productive ways to help kids through the dissolution process. Ben Stevens, a 15-year divorce lawyer in South Carolina (and editor of the South Carolina Family Law Blog), recently cited an article that addressed how to help children adjust during period of marital dissolution. He offers the following tips:

Make sure your children understand that they are not the reason for the divorce. Keep the explanation simple, ‘your mother and I can no longer live together happily. You need to know that this has nothing to do with you. Your mom and I both love you very much and nothing will change that.’

  1. Take care when discussing litigation. Your children do not need to know the sum and substance of all legal documents, depositions, and proceedings. If you and your spouse are unable to decide the issue of custody, you may wish to offer a simply explanation like ‘a judge is going to decide the time you will spend with your mommy and daddy because we both love you very much and can’t agree.’
  2. Allow the children to love both parents. Create an environment where the children can be free to love both parents. If you cringe or change the subject when your child brings up Daddy’s name, you may be sending a message to your child that you do not approve of his or her relationship with your ex.
  3. Do not send messages through your children. If you are unable to communicate by any means with your ex whether in-person, by phone, or e-mail, you may wish to consider co-parenting counseling or request a parent coordinator.
  4. Do not say disparaging things about the other parent in front of the children. Judges will expect you to be supportive of the children’s relationship with their other parent
  5. Be supportive of your children’s activities. If at all possible, take your children to their activities when it is “your time.” On the other hand, be respectful of the other parent’s time with the children. It’s difficult to look supportive of the other parent’s relationship if you always schedule well-visits during the other parent’s time.
  6. Use good judgment before introducing your children to someone you are dating. Introducing your children to someone that you have just met or are just beginning to know can be confusing and even detrimental to your children.
  7. Take the high road when possible. This may sound contrary to the advice you might expect from a divorce attorney. However, when it comes to things like schedule changes, sometimes it is better to give a little even if the favor isn’t always returned. In the event the matter goes to court, it is always better to be perceived as the parent who is flexible and cooperative.

I agree with Ben, and would add that anyone who suspects their child is having a difficult time should contact a good family therapist as soon as possible. There are many excellent professionals in our area that we can recommend. I find parents (whether a client or an opposing party) often waiting  too long to deal with the serious issues their kids face during divorce. Feelings of fault, hatred toward a parent, sense of loss and fear of rejection are just a few of the signs to watch for.