Divorce is often one of the most painful, if not the most painful process, a mother and a father go through. More importantly, it is the most painful process that they will put their children through.
Unwittingly, unknowingly, and often unintentionally, parents do destructive things to themselves and their children as they go through the time, energy, fear, financial changes, social changes, moral evaluations, and family restructuring.
It is a parent in pain who will casually say, "The children are doing fine, Shannon is getting straight A’s, Patrick is Team Captain."
It is those same parents who cannot imagine that these positives are also the effects of divorce on children.
When I was asked to write an article, what came to mind, as a Family Law Practitioner and Mediator, was sharing what I do to, hopefully, help raise parents’ awareness of behaviors they inflict upon themselves and their children as they come to grips with their own anger and fear from the lost dream of their marriage.
An Irish blessing that I want to share with you is: "May those that love us, love us, and those that don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping."
The following are handouts I provide to clients for the benefit of their families. Other attorneys have told me that my handouts are good. Much has been "borrowed" from divorce books, joint parenting agreements, and general client comments.
Please feel free to "borrow" any of the following which might help you as you help your client through the painful, and too frequent, process of divorce.
HELPFUL TIPS REGARDING CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
1. Tell the children about the divorce, be honest and frank with them but be age appropriate...tell them only
what they can grasp and understand.
2. Let the children know that both parents still love them even though they are living apart. Assure them that they
will be loved and cared for even after their parents separate.
3. Learn to talk and communicate with your ex-spouse regarding all matters concerning the children.
4. Help your children understand and handle their feelings.
5 Keep your word. Be punctual and faithful about visitation and events.
6. Avoid saying unkind things to the children about the other parent. Let the children form their own opinion.
Help the children see the good in the other parent.
7. Don’t use the children to spy or pipeline the other parents activities. Keep the children out of your fighting.
8. If you are the visiting parent, try not to be SANTA CLAUS or a DISNEYLAND parent. Don’t try to buy
your children’s affection through gifts. The best gift is you, your time, your talent, your love.
9. Keep the children out of relationships with members of the opposite sex, let them adjust to the separation
before expecting them to accept third parties.
10. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOUR PROBLEMS ARE MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE.
PERSONAL RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
1. You have the right to see each of your parents.
2. You have the right to talk to each of your parents on the phone as often as you like.
3. You have the right to refuse to carry messages from one parent to the other.
4. You have the right to request alone time with your parents without their boyfriends or girlfriends, wives or husbands.
5. You have the right to request alone time with your parents without brothers, sisters, stepbrothers, or stepsisters.
6. You have the right to spend alone time with your brothers and sisters.
7. You have the right to see your grandparents even if your parents don’t like them.
8. You have the right to ask people to stop talking badly about one of your parents (your other parent,
stepparent, grandparent, uncle, aunts.)
9. You have their right to leave any situation in which people refuse to stop talking badly about one of your parents.
10. You have the right to buy parents, stepparents, brothers and sisters, presents or cards.
11. You have the right to keep things to yourself.
12. You have the right to say, Don’t ask me where I want to live...who I love...who is mom or dad’s new friend...
ask dad/mom to come home...ask me to fix the marriage.
13. You have the right to request to live with a different parent.
14. You have the right to privacy.
15. Know what constitutes sexual and physical abuse...you have the right to avoid abuse.
RULES REGARDING CUSTODY AND VISITATION
1. Refrain from discussing the conduct of the other parent with or in the presence of the children except in a laudatory or
complimentary way. Do not poison the child’s mind with negative comment about the other spouse or their extended
family or friends. Refrain from trying to buy the child’s love through gifts or special favors.
2. Refrain from discussions of finance, as it relates to the other spouse, with or in the presence of the children,
particularly with regard to amount, manner or transmission of payment.
3. Pay all sums ordered, whether for child support or other reasons. IN FULL and ON TIME. The payor will not receive
credit for presents, clothes, etc. unless based on a valid Court Order. Pay as ordered, that is weekly, bi-weekly,
monthly, etc. since a variation may create arrearage.
4. Refrain from interfering with visitation, regardless of whether support payments are current. Interference is at the risk
of the custodian and may be subject to punishment as contempt of Court unless good cause can be shown. Continued
unwarranted interference could result in a change in custody.
5. Prepare the children for visitation and for return to the custodial parent, both physically and mentally. Pick-up and
return should be on time unless special arrangements have been made. Rules of common courtesy should prevail.
Appropriate clothing and personal needs as well as favorite toys, medications, together with instructions, and
information for emergencies should be sent with the children. Request special clothing in advance.
6. Refrain from consumption of alcohol or controlled substances, other than prescription medication taken pursuant to
medical direction, during visitation and within 24 hours prior to visitation.
7. Refrain from exposing the children to immoral behavior. Even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided.
The presence of an unrelated member of the opposite sex raises particular concerns as to inappropriate dress or
displays of affection. There should be no overnight visitation in the presence of any unrelated member of the opposite
sex. Custodial parents are subject to the same constraints.
8. Exercise his or her visitation privileges each and every time and make the time spent meaningful. Shared, or worse,
unshared, television viewing for extended periods of time is not in the best interest of the child/parent relationship. It
is neither necessary nor suggested that excessive sums of money be spent on the children. Time spent talking, reading,
attending community events and cultural activities as well as sporting events and the like all contribute immensely to
the memories and strong bond sought by your children. Many such activities are free.
9. Notify each other promptly of any delays of changes in plans that will affect the other parent or their plans.
Reasonable efforts should be made to have telephone contact available so that changes can be communicated. It is not
necessary however to account for every moment of time or every place visited. Repeated late arrivals or repeated
failure of the custodial parent to be available to receive the children back on time could result in court action to change
10. Refrain from questioning your children about the activities of your former spouse or from making extravagant
promises to them, whether or not you can or will keep those promises. Keep in mind their daily standard of living and
don’t create confusion for them as to why one standard applies with one parent and a vastly different one with the
other. A Court might consider making adjustments in support levels to equalize those standards.
11. Cooperate with the other parent in an adult, non-aggressive, reasonable and courteous way. If there will be need for
changes in visitation schedules due to illnesses or special events in your respective families. Flexibility is in the best
interest of the children, and, unfortunately, unreasonableness on a given day may well receive the same response when
the positions are reversed. Notice is the key word. Last minute changes are rude and disruptive to the family and the
children.. If changes cannot be made, don’t blame the other parent to the children.
12. Do not argue with a former spouse, particularly in the presence of the children. Pick-up and return of the children
should be a pleasant experience, looked forward to by all. It can be a time for the parents to exchange information
about the children’s health, school or church activities, extra-curricular activities or other important matters.
13. Refrain from removing the children from the State of Illinois or failing to advise your spouse of their location.
Violation of this rule could result in prosecution for a felony and a sentence to the State Penitentiary.
Brigid A. Duffield is a Family Law Pactitioner and Mediator in Wheaton. She is a Past Chair of the DCBA’s Family Law Committee. She received her Undergraduate Degree in 1976 from Northern Illinois University and her Law Degree in 1984 from John Marshall.