In many court districts in most of the jurisdictions, divorcing couples with children must take a parenting-divorce course, but in the emotional turmoil of a floundering marriage, a child’s many psychosocial and emotional needs easily escape attention. For this reason, some couples avail themselves of a child specialist in collaborative divorces.
Collaborative divorce offers spouses an alternative to litigation, which can devour a couple emotionally, physically, socially, financially and spiritually because untangling interwoven lives is excruciating. A child involved in this painful separation can easily be sucked into a vortex of anger and despair. In collaborative divorce a team of professionals helps divorcing couples untangle by means of agreed contract. The couple and their attorneys agree to settle matters at the table. The attorneys must resign from the case if the parties are not able to work through their differences. The team includes the child specialist who is an advocate for the child.
A child thrashing in the high waters of a divorce often feels caught in the middle of a crossfire between two parents he or she loves equally. Caught in the conflict between parents, the child does not honestly share his or her suffering with either parent. The parents are so preoccupied in their own complicated emotional turmoil that they are unable to fully recognize the extent of the child’s pain and suffering. Back and forth, back and forth, the child just wants the fighting to end. The child, who is loyal to both of his or her parents, does not want to choose between his or her mother and father battling over custody and other affairs. Preoccupied with the case, both parents overlook the child and crucial needs go unattended.
A child benefits in a divorce when a child specialist helps him or her express his or her emotions, according to Dr. Jane Courtney, who is a licensed clinical social worker. A child specialist is a certified mental health professional with special training in child development and collaborative divorce that understands family dynamics and the challenges faced by a child of divorce. The child specialist knows how to create a safe environment for a child to express him or herself.
The specialist gains a perspective of each child in the family while also providing a safe haven for the child to express emotions. He or she also listens to the parent’s hopes and dreams for the child. From the perspective of both parents, the child’s highest good is put forth and examined. In this light the divorce is reframed and parents make decisions with the child’s best interests as a foundation. The child specialist works collaboratively with the other team members to help make recommendations and advocate on the child’s behalf. In this way the child’s voice is heard and represented.
The child specialist focuses exclusively on the child. After assessing the child’s needs and concerns, the specialist reports back to the team. Throughout negotiations, the specialist keeps both parents and all members of the team focused on the well being of each child. The specialist can help in writing a co-parenting plan, give the child tools and strategies to navigate the transition, and provide feedback.
Divorce itself is not what harms children. The most harmful part of divorce for children is high levels of conflict and distress. Studies have found that family conflict hurts children more than divorce or even parental death.