3 Ways to Talk to Your Kids If You Want to Lose Parenting Time Points
If you have a pending divorce (dissolution) or child custody case (allocation of parental responsibilities), you’re looking at either reaching an agreement with your soon-to-be ex or having the judge decide for you what will happen. In either case, there are some easy ways to lose points with the opposing party, the judge, and with your kids (at least once they’re old enough to resent you for it). Here are 3 of those ways:
1. Talk poorly of the other parent in front of your child.
They may be the most ruthless, vengeful, dishonest person in your entire sphere, but talking poorly about your ex in front of your child will not change that fact, and, importantly, it won’t win over your child either. Statistically speaking, a child who has witnessed bad-mouthing by one parent against the other will eventually come to resent the bad-mouthing parent for it. In other words, it backfires.
And keep in mind that “talking poorly” doesn’t just include words. If your ex calls the child on the phone and you roll your eyes, if your child mentions your ex and you respond with sarcasm, if your friend or family member bad-mouths the other parent and you laugh along, that counts too.
Remember that your child identifies with that parent. Your child sees part of themselves in that parent. So when you bad-mouth them (verbally or otherwise), your child may very well internalize that negativity about themselves as well, not just about the other parent.
In addition, almost every parenting plan arrangement will include a provision that prohibits this type of communication, so it’s good practice to start working on it now.
2. Talk poorly of the other parent’s significant other or prod your child for information about them.
One of the more difficult situations you may encounter is the loss of control you’ll feel when your ex starts dating someone new. Unless the new flame poses a provable risk of physical danger or emotional danger to your child, you cannot dictate who your ex invites into the picture or how they do so. But while it’s important for your child to know they can always safely talk with you, and while it’s a good idea to monitor your child’s mood and behavior once the new someone is introduced, you may lose parenting-time points if you start bad-mouthing the new someone or if you prod your child for information about them.
For one thing, many judges will interpret this as mere jealousy that ups the conflict--and thus the strain on the child--without any real, substantive complaint about the new person. They may also see this as you not being able to encourage love and affection between the child and the other parent--one of the “best interest” factors judges have to consider. They may also see this as your inability to put the needs of your child above your own, another “best interest” factor.
In addition, if you prod your child about the new significant other, and especially if you do so using leading questions, you could taint your child’s opinion, memories, and potential testimony if something serious (like a crime against the child) is truly happening and needs to be addressed. If you have these kinds of concerns, the best option is to have your child speak with a school or professional therapist. They are mandatory reporters who will get law enforcement involved if your child discloses any sort of abuse.
3. Ask your young child their opinion.
While one of the “best interest” factors is the wishes of the child, there are many delicate and nuanced rules and guidelines for how that factor may be presented in court, if at all. With very few exceptions, you cannot simply stand up in court and tell the judge that you asked your child what they wanted and they told you. In fact, if you tell the judge that you asked your child, it is more likely that the judge will consider the child’s opinion somewhat tainted at that point.
Children, especially young children, generally want to please the authority figures in their lives, especially their parents. Depending on the way in which questions are posed to them, they may answer completely differently than how they actually feel. Interviewing children so as not to taint their answers is a skill that requires training and experience; it is not one that either parent should attempt. A much better option is to get collateral information from a therapist, doctor, teacher, or Child and Family Investigator.