January is the most common month for couples to divorce and is therefore a fitting month to raise awareness about the importance of prioritizing the children’s best-interests during a divorce.

Several decades worth of research proves the direct, negative impact that divorce has on the wellbeing and emotional stability of children. Exposure to frequent, intense, and persistent conflict between divorcing parents is the most well-documented risk factor for children’s mental health and well-being following their parents’ divorce.[1] With nearly half of all marriages in the United States ending in divorce, how can we prevent children from being negatively affected by their parents’ divorce?

Starting with the court system itself, nearly all 50 states now require parents to complete a parenting education course prior to the entry of a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. However, the approach that parents use to obtain a divorce is extremely impactful on the children’s well-being.

Some degree of conflict is inherently present between divorcing parents. It is important that parents make efforts to minimize conflict by embracing a child-centered approach to their divorce. A child-centered approach to divorce is one in which the parties focus on their children’s needs when making decisions throughout the divorce process. This approach requires parents to let go of their anger and resentment they may have toward their spouse and consider how their words and actions in the court room can have a lasting negative impact on their children. It is helpful for parents to address their negative emotions toward their spouse therapeutically, outside of court.

By embracing a non-adversarial approach to divorce in which the parents identify their shared goals and concerns for their family’s future prior to making substantive decisions, the negative impact of the divorce on the children will be minimized. This approach is often used in mediation, collaborative divorce, and other alternative dispute resolution processes.

While the idea of using litigation as a tool to “fight” your spouse who wronged you in court may seem tempting, this approach can cause children to feel like victims of the divorce. Even the most high-conflict couples can at least agree on their love for their children. Placing your negative feelings toward your spouse to the side and remaining focused on what you do agree on: your children’s future and well-being, will allow for effective co-parenting and open communication with your spouse post-divorce.

Nicole C. Edidin, Associate
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[1] O’Hara, K. L., & Cohen, B. R. (2023). A call for early, effective, and scalable parent education programs for high-conflict separated/divorcing parents: A synthesized perspective from prevention science and family law. Family Court Review, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/fcre.12771