One of the most heartbreaking things I have to deal with in my family law practice is a divorce involving a high conflict custody issues. These are the cases that mom and/or dad are slinging mud at the other party. The allegations may be real, they may be imagined, or even somewhere in between. It doesn’t really matter though because the outcome is still the same. One parent is keeping the minor child from the other parent. The child is generally confused, frightened and sad.
Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ battles traditionally grow up to have severe mental problems. The parents don’t intend this to be the outcome, but it is inevitable. A parent may think they are justified in keeping a child from the other parent. However, except in extremely rare situations, the child will be better off having a relationship with both parents.
Usually what I see, in a truly bad situation, is a parent who needs some short term counseling with the child. If the parent has been abusive, the child needs to be protected. Although, the child still needs contact with the absent parent, as long as it is in a safe environment. Generally, the best environment is with a mental health professional. With the right mental health professional the child can feel protected while working on establishing a healthy relationship with the parent from whom they have been kept. The counseling may be long term, or short term, depending upon the severity of the situation and the comfort level of the child.
Joyce Tessier, an MFT in Upland, recently said, “A therapist with experience working with children will help the child in this crucial transition. Both parents and children need the extra support when going through the challenges of divorce. The benefits of a supportive professional can bring about a sense of hope and create a positive structure to the family, in its new form.”
The important thing is that there be some contact and some attempt to repair the relationship between the child and parent. It may not seem like it at the time, but the child and both parents will ultimately benefit.
By Pamela Edwards-Swift, Certified Family Law Specialist