By Brenda L. Storey, Esq.
I really enjoy attending conferences and seminars. I always leave invigorated with new creative ideas and excitement for applying what I learned to my cases. My recent attendance at the seminar “Family Law Through the Developmental Lens: Assessing and Including the Voice of the Ever-Maturing Child,” was no exception.
During the seminar, it was shared that “There are indications in empirical studies that not listening to what children have to say during divorce process has had unintended negative effects.” Now, this does NOT mean that children should be placed in the middle, told too much, or asked to decide their own parenting time. Rather, the goal is to allow the child to share his or her feelings, and feel heard.
Oftentimes, the child will initiate the discussion, such as asking questions about what will happen, or sharing feelings of concern. Other times, or in addition to the child starting a conversation, the parent can prompt the child, with questions such as “so, how are you feeling with this whole process?” The talks should not include any promises, nor too many facts, and should never, ever involve negative comments about the other parent. If a child asks for more information than would be appropriate to share, the parent need only say “I love you too much to involve you with that.” If the child makes specific requests, such as for certain parenting time, the parent should simply acknowledge the request, thank the child for expressing, and confirm for the child that that will be considered.
Even if the parenting time that is ultimately implemented differs from what the child requested, acknowledgement that the child was heard will assist the child in successfully adapting to the schedule. When the child is told of the schedule that will be put in place, a reminder should be given that the child’s statements were heard and considered, and that the parent believes that the schedule that will be used will be best for the child at this time. The parent should encourage the child to share what he or she thinks and experiences with the time sharing, and to continue to express him or herself.
“When children are actively involved in problem solving and given recognition that their ideas are important and are being heard, they are empowered, and their confidence and self esteem grow….” This is actually quite a simple concept, and the results can be huge. Communication is key, including key to children’s success despite their parents’ divorce.