How will divorce affect my baby?
One of the considerations that is really important is attachment. We now know that infants will attach to their primary caretaker, and this is the person who has the consistency and ongoing contact with the child. So if one parent is X'd out, meaning they don't have contact, the child's not going to be attaching to that parent, and this is half of their DNA, this is half of their heritage, this is half of their family. This is a problem for them. So it's better, the best plan is that frequent and continuous contact with both parents. The best parent is both parents. Even if it's a very little child, it makes a huge difference in the outcome.
How will divorce affect my children?
Parents have to consider that developmentally, whatever age a child is, they are forming very important concepts and ideas about; what is a mother, what is a father, what, who are the grandparents, who am I? A child is answering the question of who am I? And they get the answer from contact with both sides of their family. They have a heritage that has come to them from the father, from the mother, and they need to be exposed to what their heritage is. And as an unfortunate result is that one parent thinks, 'I'm the best parent and therefore you can't see your child.' This is when things really get to be a serious problem. If one person is seriously out of control and is absolutely without a question inappropriate, then that's another matter. But very few times is that the case. So the child really needs two parents. And the idea that a single mother can raise children and the child just turn out okay, there's overwhelming statistics that children who don't have a father in their lives do not turn out well. Statistically the social behaviors that are dysfunctional of premature pregnancy or adolescent pregnancy, crime, drugs, dropping out of school, all manner of adjustment problems, psychological adjustment problems, there's a very high percentage of those kids that don't have a father. The children who have the good fortune of having the guidance of a father and we know they turn out better overall.
How can I help my child adapt to my divorce?
One of the things we would like parents to do is to not have their child cope with the divorce but to actually adjust to the divorce and then adapt to it and feel comfortable about it. We do know that parents that can work it out, that these children fare very well, and that divorce in and of itself does not create, have to create, a horrible situation for children. The key is, can the parents co-operate with each other? Can the pair share the child? Are the parents organized enough, and this doesn't matter if this is a toddler or a teenager; are they organized enough that they can share the child's life, that they can participate in the child's life? Can they be in the same room at the school play without hostility? Can they both track the academic progress of the child? Are they both able to be there with the paediatrician or be there when the child has some sort of medical emergency? In situations where that is possible, we know those children turn out very well. There's a lot of research on this. It's when parents are in constant conflict and drama and the child is being torn between one parent and the other parent with all the accusations and so on that these children do not turn out well, and you can see why.
What will happen to my child if I leave my marriage suddenly?
In some cases parents just have a flameout where one parent just leaves. Slams the door and they are gone. As any thinking person can imagine, that without any preparation, it is horribly difficult for a child. Children don't understand that. But what children do understand, almost universally, is that they caused this. That is something parents really don't have a grasp on. Young children have a sense that they're bigger, more powerful, they're stronger, more capable, than they really are. They engage a lot in magical thinking. If I had behaved myself when daddy told me to go to bed and I didn't go to bed and my parents started fighting and daddy left the next day it's my fault. I should have gone to bed when he told me to. That's the kind of thinking a young child does. They may not be able to express the guilt, the intense guilt they feel for what the parents behaviour was. So just leaving is not the right way to do things.
If I leave my marriage suddenly, how can I help my child adapt?
With regards to children and divorce, if you leave your marriage suddenly where the child is abruptly left by one of the parents, the best parents are both parents. There should be an arrangement very quickly that the child sees the other parent because young children have no comprehension of where that person went, they don't know if they're safe, if they'll ever see them again and don't understand in general. Therefore it is so important for the child to be with that other parent to know they're okay, because that other parent is half of themselves, the child is now left with half of 'who I am'. Again the child has to cope not adapt, unless their parents can help them adapt by understanding 'you know we just can't live together and we both love you.' Now you can imagine if the child has patterned a positive relation with the parent and then the parent just leaves. You can imagine what this does psychologically to them; this is not a good thing.
Should a parent who leaves a marriage be allowed to see our child?
A good many parents have some pretty extreme attitudes about what happened leading up to the divorce and the actual separation, and again, there's this belief that's pretty pervasive that “I'm the best parent because I'm the good person” and without looking within at what I've done to contribute to the problem. Also, this is an example of the principle of the best interest of the child if the child stays with me. And also there's a presumption of constant care where the child has had constant care with this one parent and the other one wants to come in and have parenting rights and parenting time with their child. It's very complicated and in many of these cases, you have to appeal to a judge or commissioner to make a judicial decision about the time share, if you can't work it out with mediation or any other way.
Can the courts decide what is best for my child?
If parents really understood that the only reason to go to court is to get a decision, they would rethink the idea of going to court at all. There is a lot of magical thinking, much like what young children do, that someone who sits behind a big mahogany desk and a big black muumuu somehow is wiser and smarter than these parents are about their own children and that is never the case. The judge does not love you. The judge does not love your children. The judge will listen to the evidence. One of the things we know is that what prevails in court is not the truth. It's an illusion of truth. The only purpose of being there is to reach a decision. This has nothing to do with the best interests of the child. This has nothing to do with what you think ought to happen at all. It's a very expensive process, not just financially. So much money is wasted on courts for very little result. Courts need to be reserved for the worst case scenario where there is no way to handle a case without it.