08 Jul Avoid Bad-Mouthing Your Co-Parent in Front of Your Children
A divorce is rarely a pleasant process, and tensions can be particularly high when two former spouses (now “co-parents”) are trapped in a custody battle. When going through the process of legally divorcing, and then fighting in court over issues such as child support, alimony, division of property, and (perhaps) most heatedly, child custody / shared parenting issues – it can be easy for even what started out as the most cooperative divorce to turn into a nasty back-and-forth with no clear winner.
Unfortunately, this struggle often manifests itself in personal attacks between the two formerly happily married people as they blame each other for their problems, the difficulty of the divorce process, and find flaws in each other that they never saw before. This can be exacerbated if the divorce occurred after a rocky marriage, such as one that included cheating, abuse, or some sort of breach of trust among one or both spouses. Some angry co-parents even fall prey to the selfish desire of wanting their child or children to support them at the expense of the other co-parent. For these parents, it appears to be somewhat easy to turn to bad-mouthing a former spouse in front of their children.
This can take several forms, from trying to turn your children against your ex-husband or ex-wife to simply complaining about them to other (friends, family) in your child’s presence. In the first case, it is natural to want your child to want to love you more than anyone else on Earth. However, some misguided parents may attempt to get their child to see the flaws in the other parent by explaining (and often exaggerating) what is wrong about the other person. In the second case, you may simply be talking about why you hate (or just can’t be married to) your former spouse with a friend, relative, loved one, or counselor, while your child is able to overhear the conversation.
This is troubling for several reasons: it can permanently damage your child’s perception of you and your former spouse, it can seriously harm your case in court, whether you’re arguing for child custody, visitation (“time-sharing”) rights and worst of all – it may scar your children and jade their interactions with others in the years to come.
As a result, talking about how terrible your spouse is to, or in front of, your children can lead them to have a negative image of both parents, which can lead to trust issues in the future. They may take your negative portrayal of your spouse to heart and not trust others who look or act like them, or they may see you as unfairly harsh and lose faith in you as a parent.
It is also crucial to remember that anything you say can be used against you if your child repeats it in court or in front of a Guardian Ad Litem. Children (above a certain age) can be called to testify during a custody battle, wherein a judge will take into account the needs and desires of a child when deciding whether to grant sole or joint custody, which parent the child will live with, what visitation rights the other parent will have, and whether those visits will be supervised or unsupervised.
A judge that hears from your child (or a Guardian Ad Litem) that you were bad-mouthing your former spouse will be far less likely to grant your requested time-sharing schedule on the basis that you are stirring up conflict and are less likely to create a healthy living environment for the child than the other parent may be.
Instead of complaining about your former spouse to your child, a successful co-parent will coordinate with the other parent and/or a child psychologist with regards to talking to them truthfully about what is going on and why the two of you are divorcing. Explaining the situation clearly, calmly and in an age-appropriate manner to your child will help him or her absorb what is happening in a healthier manner, instead of suppressing a potentially negative view of the experience in a way that may cause problems psychologically or emotionally later on.
It is also important for your child to see that their parents have a good parenting relationship, are working together and remain on civil terms during this process. Children build many of their life habits based on the behavior of their parents, and studies show that children who observe their parents fighting are more likely to repeat this behavior in their own relationships. Ultimately, although it may be challenging in certain situations, work to reign in your anger towards your former spouse around your children and instead portray an attitude of cooperation and love.