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Don’t punish the kids to get back at your ex

By: Kayla Richmond, Esq.

Both moms and dads can make mistakes when parenting their children. When it comes to separating or divorcing families, a parent’s behavior often changes based on emotions they are experiencing from the situation. This may cause some parents to act poorly without understanding the long-lasting effect it will have on their child(ren). Emotions also drive some parents to focus internally on how they feel and what they want, instead of what is in the best interest of their child(ren), their extended family and friends.

What is in the best interest of the children?

Practically speaking, parenting takes on many forms and everyone has a style that works for their family. In a legal setting, Florida law delineates the “best interest of the children” factors, spelling out the things courts are specifically considering when deciding if, and how much time, children should spend with either parent after a split. When a court is involved, you would expect parents to exhibit their best behavior; but unfortunately while practicing family law, I have witnessed parents conducting themselves without regard for their children, or how their actions would influence a judge’s decision.

Abuse, abandonment, or neglect of children are obvious signs of poor parenting, but there are less obvious behaviors that can have a detrimental effect on children. Despite the law, or what people may consider common sense “good parenting,” below are some real-life examples I have witnessed throughout my career as a divorce and family law attorney:

Canceling your child’s health insurance because it will cost the other parent more money to carry the child on their policy.

The result of this course of action is that your child is left without health coverage until the switch in coverage can be made. If a catastrophic injury occurs during that time, there could be potential uncovered medical expenses. What is more, the financial resources that could have been used for the child are now limited due to a more expensive insurance policy.

Failing to take your child to their extra-curricular activities during your specified timesharing.

Not only is your child sad for missing an activity they look forward to, but the family as a whole has wasted money in registration and uniform costs and a valuable lesson in commitment cannot be learned. In some cases, the child is even benched or removed from the team due to inconsistent attendance.

Arbitrarily withholding parental consent for the other parent to obtain a passport for your child.

Not only will this ruin the child’s opportunity to travel, but it will likely cost more in fees and costs impacting the families’ financial resources. There is no positive to withholding the consent.

Involving the child in disagreements between parents, about the child’s schedule or decisions related to the child.

The result of this unfortunate behavior is the child may face a ‘loyalty complex’ and be confused as to which parent they should listen to. The child will quickly realize their parents aren’t on the same page and begin to behave in accordance with their belief of what each parent expects of them.

The list could go on.

The bottom line

Parenting is not easy – not in an intact, separated, or blended family setting. The behaviors described above have a direct detrimental effect on a child and exacerbate any potential positive relationship separated parents could have that would benefit their children.

Despite the emotions parents experience when divorcing, they must separate the emotions from the practical and logistical needs of the family, so that shortsighted reactions and behaviors don’t leave long-term emotional scars on their children.

Divorce and separation have lifetime effects on all individuals involved but is specifically associated with an increased risk for children and adolescent adjustment problems and mental health issues.

If you are struggling with navigating the divorce/separation process, and recognize that your emotions are driving your behaviors (and even have committed some of the above-mentioned behaviors), considering counseling. The counselor will be able to help you address your emotions and ultimately improve your behaviors for the benefit of your children. If you have a counselor you’re comfortable with, keep seeing them during, and after, a separation or divorce. If you need to find a counselor, ask your family law attorney for recommendations. The impact will truly benefit your family in the long-run.

Those needing assistance in divorce, marital, or family law issues may contact me at kayla.richmond@henlaw.com or by phone at 239-344-1156.