Five Tips on Protecting Children from a Hostile Parent During a Divorce in Arizona
It’s all very fine to talk in terms of spouses working together in a divorce for the good of the children. But civility is not always easy, and divorcing spouses can be hostile and abusive. How can you reduce stress for the kids when your soon-to-be-ex is acting out?
This scenario happens more often than one would like to think. But it doesn’t mean you throw up your hands—your kids need you more than ever. Instead, get some help. You have more options than you may realize to get the divorce back on the civil track.
An Experienced Attorney Will Guide You
If your spouse doesn’t want a divorce, he or she may be hostile toward you. Do not consider going it alone if this is your case. It’s naïve to think that a bitter divorce will have a smooth landing. And one parent’s bad behavior impacts the kids.
Your first, best resource to find your way through a hostile divorce is your attorney. Choose your lawyer with this in mind. You want someone experienced and tough, but not a grand-stander or a bully. The right person will reassure and guide you through the process, step by step. He or she is there to answer questions and find solutions when your spouse is aggressive or nasty.
One of the first matters a good divorce attorney discusses with you helps available inside and outside the court system.
Courts Offer Help
Many court systems, including the family law courts in Arizona, offer help to families going through a divorce. This can include mediation and Parenting Coordinators, which are people who you can call when there is a problem with your former spouse related to your children. These Parenting Coordinators can quickly intervene to resolve disputes related to the children.
Arizona family courts offer mediation, and many require it, for disputes involving the kids. In mediation, the parents meet with a neutral trained mediator to discuss the law, the kids, and the options. The parents may meet the mediator together or separately. Neither party is forced to compromise in a mediation. Nobody can force you to agree to a parenting plan. But hearing a neutral third party discuss the law and how it applies to your case can be persuasive. It often helps convince a belligerent spouse to act more reasonably.
Parental coordination is another source of help. It’s underutilized, yet a highly effective resource for parents in a high-conflict custody case. The court appoints a parenting coordinator to help the parents resolve child-related issues.
Usually, a parental coordinator comes in after the court enters final orders in the case. The coordinator assists with interpreting and enforcing the orders. Sometimes a court appoints a parenting coordinator before the final orders.
The parenting coordinator is an invaluable resource in resolving disputes about your parenting plan. It is well worth your consideration in managing the post-divorce period of a high-conflict case.
Private Mediation or Arbitration
You and your spouse can arrange for private mediation or arbitration. Many firms specialize in providing these services, including a number of family law firms. Your attorney will very likely offer recommendations of mediators he or she has worked with.
Arbitration differs from mediation. The mediator acts as the voice of reason, getting parents to talk over the issues calmly and reasonably. An arbitrator hears each side then rules on disputed issues. Both alternatives are cheaper and easier for the kids than a bitter divorce trial.
You should check on the laws that apply to mediation and arbitration in your state. For example, there are very limited reasons to object to an arbitration ruling and you may waive your right to an appeal in arbitration.
Therapy for You and Your Children
If you notice your kids wilting under the pressures of the family break-up, they may need individual therapy. Many trained therapists are available in urban areas, and some specialize in working with children.
Divorcing parents can need help too. Talking to a trained professional about your fears, anger, doubts, and concerns as your marriage ends can help. While some therapists are very expensive, others charge sliding fees depending on your income and many accept insurance. This is a good way to keep yourself moving forward in this difficult time. And the better you handle the divorce, the better it is for your kids.
Use Good Communication to Protect Children
Whether or not your kids act out, your divorce will affect them. Unless a parent is abusive—and sometimes even then—children grieve when a parent moves out of the family home. But that separation is not the most damaging part of divorce for a child, according to experts. Bitter talk and hostile behavior between parents are the most detrimental elements of a parental break-up for the kids.
You can go a long way to helping your children cope with your divorce by adopting a civil code of conduct. Here are the bones of a set of rules of the road that can steer you through. Add others as they come up in your own divorce.
1) Think cooperation.
Cooperation is key. Divorcing parents can ease the stress on their kids by developing and fostering a cooperative relationship with each other. This means you need to turn conflicts into discussions and work together on each aspect of the divorce. No matter what awful things the other parent has done to you, don’t allow the relationship to dive into hostility. Consider and resolve problems like adults for the sake of your children.
2) Communicate appropriately with your kids.
Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your kids is essential during a divorce. But just any communication won’t do. You need to give your children age-appropriate information about the new normal in their lives. They don’t want or need to hear about your spouse’s cheating or other problems.
They want to hear kid-critical details like who will drive them to school and where they will spend holidays. It’s also important to let them know that the break-up isn’t their fault. Both you and your spouse need to reaffirm your love for them. If possible and true, let them know you still care about each other. Continue down this path even if you can’t convince the other parent to do the same.
3) Listen to your children.
You feel angry and stressed about the break-up and afraid for the future—your kids probably do too. Don’t use this as an excuse to pour out your rage and fears into their young ears. Acknowledge that you are stressed and sad, but don’t weigh them down with the details of the separation or your feelings. Save these discussions for adult friends. On the other hand, encourage children to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.
The divorce will be over in a few months and sometimes longer, but the pain and anger may last a lot longer. Be sure that you are there for them in the years after the divorce. They may have new thoughts about it as they get older. They may ask different questions and need additional different information. Never shut them up by saying it’s done and you are trying to forget it.
4) Do not drag the kids into the fight.
It’s so easy to involve your kids, especially older kids, in the divorce, trying to get them to see things your way. Avoid this as much as possible. Even if your kids are grown, they do not want to be included in the divorce mess.
If you share too many details about divorce issues, you may make an older child hate the other parent. This kind of manipulation can cause lasting scars, and the hate can sometimes rebound on you. It can also make a child feel despair. Never tell children any details about your spouse’s bad behavior unless and until they need to know.
Nor should you ask your kids to negotiate with the other parent for you. If you need something clarified or altered, discuss the issue with your attorney or your ex. It is also a bad idea to ask your children to convey information to your ex. This places the children in the middle of the dialogue of their parents, which places them directly in the middle of the divorce. This is a place the children should be protected from.
5) Say nothing ugly, nothing bitter.
Remember that your ex is the beloved father or mother of your children. And the more love kids have in their lives, the better. That should inspire you to leave venom out of discussions in front of them.
Give them the gift of allowing, even encouraging, their guilt-free love for the other parent. Never speak of him or her with bitterness or suggest that your ex is a bad parent. Let your children decide how they feel on their own, knowing that those feelings will likely change over time. Don’t impose your own experiences and emotions about the other parent on them.
6) Be creative in the changing situation.
Use all your creativity and enlist your kids’ creativity to develop new family traditions to replace the old ones. Every member of the family will initially feel a sense of loss around holidays and special times. Even grown-up children may be sad to see the demise of family rituals like a family Thanksgiving with everybody present.
Replace rigidity with flexibility, especially when it comes to celebrating events like birthdays and holidays. You won’t be able to have the kids every holiday, so plan to celebrate the weekend before or the weekend after.
Don’t inquire minutely into the new traditions of the other parent. Your kids may feel disloyal to you if they enjoy themselves, disloyal to the other parent if they report back. If they share news about a happy time, be happy for them.
7) Consider getting professional counseling help for kids.
Do not hesitate to enlist the help of a trained therapist if you think your children are having difficulties accepting or processing the divorce. You’ll be able to tell how they’re doing if you keep listening to what they are saying.
Divorce is stressful for everyone and even tough-talking teens may be devastated inside. Sometimes just a few sessions with a counselor will be enough, but a longer-term of counseling may be required to help them move through the emotions.
When Hostile Turns to Abusive
Note that hostile behavior toward you is different than abusive behavior toward you or the kids. If your spouse is bitter and angry about the divorce, that is one thing. An emotionally or physically abusive spouse is another.
If your spouse hits or threatened you or the children or erupts in a rage that frightens you, tell your attorney. The court has procedures for dealing with abusive divorcing parents and partners, including protective orders.
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Chris Hildebrand wrote the information on this page about how to protect your child from a hostile parent in an Arizona divorce to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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