3 Great Tips to Give Your Kids a Voice in Your California Divorce

kids and divorceIssues involving kids and divorce can be tricky.  One of the great things about using consensual dispute resolution options like Mediation and Collaborative Practice in your California Divorce is that you can give your kids more of a say in how the parenting plan will turn out.  This is not to say that you leave the decisions to the kids. It does, however, mean you can hear their voices, which can mean a lot to them- in particular if they are old enough to thoughtfully articulate their preferences.

Not all kids should be given the same level of input.  How much you let your kids sway your decision making when creating a post-divorce parenting plan is up to you.  You will want to consider such factors as the child’s maturity level, age, ability to articulate and emotional needs.  But if you decide that giving the kids a voice is what you want to do in your family, here are some tips.

Let Your Divorce Mediator Talk to the Kids.

With kids and divorce, it is important to give children a voice.  As a mediator, sometimes I will talk to the kids.  I only do it if both parents agree that it will be appropriate.  Importantly, I never ask the kids, “Where do you want to live.”  But, I will give them the chance in a non-threatening environment to say what is important to them.  Writing their responses on a white board and then, with their permission, I boil their thoughts down into a report to share with the parents.

It’s amazing what useful information I can learn from the kids.  In one case, the teenage kids told me that they worry their father will die from his alcohol abuse.  In another situation, an over-scheduled child shared that he felt it was hard to relax because of his very busy schedule.  He said that he had a hard time “just being a kid.”  Another child volunteered that the 2-2-3 parenting schedule his parents made it difficult to adjust to the move from one house to another.   As a result, he felt his grades suffering. He articulated that because he was bouncing back and forth so frequently, he didn’t ever have time to feel at home in either household.

Before I talk to a child, I will get a release to speak to the child’s therapist if available.  This gives me insight to ensure that I spend time with the child appropriately given the child’s emotional circumstances.

Have a Joint Session with Parents and Therapist.

Another option for kids and divorce is to allow the child to articulate her feelings in a  joint session with a therapist and parents.  The therapist can help everyone find ways to work together for the good of the child.  You can also trust that the mental health professional will take care to prevent the conversation from becoming inappropriate.  It can be a safe and productive way to promote healthy dialogue and to appropriately empower your child.

With Kids and Divorce, Use a Collaborative Child Specialist.

In Collaborative Practice, we use neutral child specialists to make sure that the parenting plan will protect the child’s needs.  The child specialist is a mental health professional experienced in helping kids through a divorce.  In essence, the child specialist becomes an advocate for the child’s needs.

In the collaborative practice model, the work is confidential and cannot be used later in court. Everyone can trust that they can be open and frank, while working towards solutions.  Children in divorce frequently tell parents what the parents want to hear and not necessarily how the children really feel. But kids will open up to a child specialist, giving her the ability to articulate the children’s unvarnished needs and worries.  I have often used neutral child specialists even outside of Collaborative Practice.  In my humble opinion, it never hurts to give kids an advocate.  Using a trained child specialist is often the perfect solution.

Summary

There are many ways to give your kids a voice.  These are just three.  While it is generally not a good plan to let the kids feel like they are in charge, it never hurts to give them an opportunity to be heard.  You may be surprised what your kids can teach you as you go through your divorce.  Often the kids are ahead of the parents in dealing with the heartache and emotions of the split.  Considering the kids’ needs and really, truly listening to their point of view can provide tremendous insight and great rewards.  Most importantly, your kids will appreciate that you took the time to pay attention.

 

Read also:

Doing your Divorce with a Child Specialist: http://weberdisputeresolution.com/do-you-need-a-child-specialist-for-your-divorce/

Why “Fair” is the F-Word in Divorce Negotiations: http://weberdisputeresolution.com/why-fair-is-the-f-word-in-divorce-negotiations/

Five Tips to Have a Miserable Divorce: http://weberdisputeresolution.com/five-tips-to-have-a-miserable-divorce/

How much does it cost to go to divorce mediation?: http://weberdisputeresolution.com/divorce-mediation-cost/

Forgiveness During Divorce: A key to finding peace: http://weberdisputeresolution.com/forgiveness-during-divorce/

Comments

  1. Shawn — I came across your article via LinkedIn and I think you aptly articulated the need for children’s voices to be heard in challenging family/divorce mediations. I have done most of the ideas you listed and I wholeheartedly agree about the benefit to structuring a process that gives children a voice without giving them the control over adult decisions. This was really balanced, quick to read, etc — Nice job!

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