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  • Writer's pictureJosh Ormond

How Should I Talk to Kids About My Child Custody Case?

By Allison Kruk Ormond, Esq.

It can be difficult to know how to talk to kids about divorce and separation. It can be even more challenging when there are disputes with the other parent involving child custody and parenting time

When parties divorce or separate, not only do children have to process the end of their parents’ relationship, but they will likely have to adjust to the idea of sharing time between two households. It can be hard to give kids a sense of normalcy in the middle of all of this change, especially when you and the other parent are not on the same page when it comes to custody and parenting time.

Do Not Disparage the Other Parent In Front of the Child

When you are in the midst of a child custody dispute, children may have questions about when they will see the other parent and where they will live. If the parties do not agree on custody and visitation, it isn’t always possible to present a united front on these issues. As a result, it may be confusing to know what to say and how to respond when your child has a lot of questions.

First, as much as possible, you want to promote a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Even though the other party may be behaving badly, you do not want to criticize the other parent in front of or within earshot of the kids. You should also insist that family members, friends, and other third parties refrain from diminishing or insulting the child’s other parent in their presence. 

Especially for young children, it is difficult for kids to see themselves as entirely separate from either parent. Consequently, when you insult or belittle the child’s other parent, the child may internalize that negative commentary and take it as an injury to their own sense of self. 

As a corollary, you should not tell the child that they cannot do certain things because of the parenting time schedule or their other parent’s actions. For instance, you should not tell a child that they cannot participate in extracurricular activities or buy a certain toy because their other parent is behind on child support

Similarly, you should not tell a child they cannot go to a playdate or sleepover because of the custody schedule. While you can tell the child that they have other plans on that day (or, ask if the other parent will take them to the playdate or sleepover), you should not tell the child that it’s the other parent’s fault they cannot have fun with their friends. Doing so only damages the relationship with the child, creating a rift within them and their sense of family. 

Do Not Involve the Children in the Custody Litigation

In general, you should not communicate with the kids about the ongoing litigation between you and your ex-partner or ex-spouse. Doing so only places children in the middle of what should be a disagreement between adults. This can lead to further confusion and internal strife for your child, who is likely not of the age and maturity level to understand these legal proceedings. 

Children should not be involved in custody disputes

By triangulating your child in your custody dispute with your ex, the child may feel like they have to “choose sides”. This may have a poor impact on the child’s mental health as they try to navigate a complex legal dispute between two divorced parents they love dearly.

More than that, involving your child in ongoing child custody litigation can hurt your case. The family law judge does not want children to be burdened by the child custody case between their parents, and the Court does not want the custody proceedings to be discussed with them. 

Either by Court Order or by agreement of the parties, many divorcing parties are required to follow The Children’s Bill of Rights. This document sets forth basic human rights that all children have when their parents separate or get divorced. 

Among others, these rights include the right to be kept out of the middle of their parents’ conflicts and treated as separate individuals, with the right to be loved by and enjoy positive parent-child relationships with both of their parents. 

Depending on your Court Order, a Family Court judge may impose sanctions if one of the parties is found to have violated the Children’s Bill of Rights and inappropriately involves the children in the litigation. 

What Should I Do If the Other Party Discusses the Family Court Case with the Children?

Many clients will often ask what they should do if the other parent brings up the custody or child support dispute with the children. 

First, you should avoid further involving the children in the Family Court proceedings. You should not make things worse by continuing to place the children in the middle of the conflict between you and your ex. While you can only control your actions, what happens in Family Court should stay between the adults involved. 

You can let the child know that their parents both love and care about them and only want what is best for them. You can also let them know that any disagreements between you and your ex are not your child’s responsibility or burden. You can communicate that you and the child’s other parent will work through things and come up with a solution, but that the child does not need to worry about issues like what’s happening in Family Court – that should stay between the adults. 

Next, if appropriate under the circumstances, you may want to have a conversation with the child’s other parent. Start off by explaining to them that you are concerned because the child brought up the family court litigation. 

Try to leave the conversation open ended and gather information, rather than accusing your ex of talking to the child about the custody case. It could be that a third party may have mentioned something to your child, prompting them to have questions. In that case, work with your child’s other parent to try and resolve the issue and to keep the children out of the conflict. 

If your child continues to have questions or appears stressed or anxious, you may want to consult a qualified mental health professional, such as a therapist or school guidance counselor. Often, these experts can have valuable insight into how to assuage your child’s worries over the divorce without making them feel stuck in the middle of their parents’ conflict. 

If you are in the middle of a child custody dispute, and you wonder how you should talk to your kids about my child custody case, it can be invaluable to have the advice of a family law attorney. As child custody lawyers, we experience child custody disputes every day and have insight to offer on how to navigate what can be an emotionally charged legal process. 

We understand how paramount each party’s relationship with the child is to any custody case and can help guide you towards a parenting time and visitation plan that actually works for you and your family. Schedule a consultation with Ormond Law and get the benefit of strategic, tailored, and empathic legal advocacy in your child custody case today. 

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