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Putting Children First

Putting Children First: A Guide for Parents Breaking Up

Hanna McDonough
Christina Bartha
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 192
  • Book Info
    Putting Children First
    Book Description:

    A step-by-step guide to the emotional work parents must do to make their divorce a success for themselves and their children. The authors present practical instructions for conflict resolution and illustrate the importance of co-operation in divorce.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7891-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    I survived a long and bloody custody dispute. It wiped out five years of my life and cost me more than $50,000.00. And we did not even make it to trial!

    The dispute created scars that will never go away. Our son is scarred, we are scarred, and together we limp toward some broken future, emotionally, financially, and spiritually exhausted.

    In the legal system, you focus on problems instead of solutions. You watch what is going on in your ex’s home instead of your own. Your children, loving both of you, are caught in the middle. Because going to court...

  4. Part I Preventing Conflict

    • 1. Three Different Kinds of Divorce
      (pp. 3-8)

      There are three kinds of divorces, with very different effects on children (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992).

      The easiest for children is the ‘amicable divorce,’ where you, as parents, talk to each other freely about your children, with little hostility. Your children enjoy a full relationship with both of you. Because you do not want to exclude each other, your children feel they are allowed to speak to you about the time they spend with the other. When the child has a problem with one of you, she can discuss it with the other, and it gets resolved. Together, you adjust...

    • 2. The Stresses of Divorce and the Loss of Love
      (pp. 9-27)

      Divorce is highly stressful because it is about loss. Loss of what is most near and dear to you: your intimate relationship and full-time parenting. In the next two chapters we will deal with each of these losses in turn.

      But for now, let us look at why divorce is so stressful. Divorce is so stressful because it affects every part of your life. Divorce is not a simple event like selling your home. It is a multifaceted process that takes years to complete. It is a complex social, familial, and personal experience. Ending an intimate relationship is traumatic in...

    • 3. Loss of Full-Time Parenting
      (pp. 28-36)

      In this chapter we will examine the second great loss you endure when you divorce: the loss of full-time parenting. We will start by examining this loss and then propose some ways to handle it.

      The biggest problem in divorce is that you can never live together again as a family. Although this is an obvious point, it is amazing how hidden it is in disputes. Each parent acts as though he or she could, or should, have the child all the time. As if it were-possible. Divorce means that for the rest of your lives, you will have to...

    • 4 The Separating Process
      (pp. 37-48)

      As we said earlier, separating is a long complicatedprocess.It starts with the crisis of the family breaking up, and evolving from a single family structure to a two-unit family. As the family adjusts to the new structure, it faces many pressures. Each member undergoes stress, but at different times and in different ways.

      Usually, long before the decision to separate, you are unhappy with each other. When you quarrel, you cannot support each other or act as a team. (‘Things just fell apart,’ is the way Nancy described this period.) This unhappiness is expressed in hot or cold...

    • 5. Children’s Reactions to Divorce
      (pp. 49-63)

      Children are always distressed when their families break up. Research shows that children, unlike adults, do not see separation as a way of improving their lives. When questioned about this later in life, children usually say they wish their parents had stayed together (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). In this sense, when it comes to divorce, children see things differently from their parents. Adults divorce in the hope of finding a better partner to live with, as reflected in the high rate of re-marriage (75 per cent of women and 80 per cent of men remarry; Hetherington et al., 1985). Adults...

    • 6. Talking to Your Children about Your Divorce
      (pp. 64-70)

      Parents always find it difficult to talk to their children about painful topics. And talking to them about your divorce is especially hard, because you feel guilty about creating a tough situation for them. As parents, you want to make your children happy, not create problems for them.

      Mr P said, ‘I had children to make them happy. They did not ask to be born, I chose for them to be, and here I am divorcing their mother. I know it will make them miserable for the short term and maybe longer ... When I realized my divorce was difficult...

    • 7. The Parenting Plan
      (pp. 71-81)

      When you separate, the question arises as to how you and your spouse will parent in two separate homes. How will decisions be made? How will the children’s education be decided? Where will the children reside? There is bound to be confusion as the two of you wrestle with these questions. Developing a parenting plan helps you handle them. Aparenting planis a document that sets out your responsibilities and how you will conduct yourselves with regard to the children so that you can work co-operatively and effectively as separated parents. There is no magic in creating a parenting...

    • 8. Getting to Your Parenting Plan
      (pp. 82-88)

      There are many processes available to help you achieve your parenting plan. The six basic processes are (1) deciding by yourselves; (2) using lawyers to negotiate for you; (3) mediation; (4) mediation with premediation counselling; (5) arbitration; and (6) court, possibly with the assistance of a clinical assessment or the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

      In this process, you and your spouse attend a series of meetings to settle on your parenting plan. This option allows you complete control over decision making, but it will only work if you and your spouse have some trust in each other and are...

  5. Part II Managing Conflict by Getting Informed

    • 9. The High-Conflict Divorce
      (pp. 91-101)

      For between 15 and 25 per cent of the divorcing couples, arriving at a parenting plan through mediation or counselling is simply not possible. These parents seem unable to overcome their hostility and conflict. In this chapter, we discuss why certain parents fight; in the next, we discuss how children react to these fights. Later still, we will talk about the dynamics of traditional parenting arrangements, whether chosen or imposed.

      Johnston and Campbell (1988), in California, studied a group of parents who continued to fight two to ten years after separating. These parents felt they had to fight each other...

    • 10. The Impact of Conflict on Children and Parental Alienation Syndrome
      (pp. 102-118)

      When parents quarrel for years, they are placing their children in a zone. Absorbed by the fighting, they neglect and misinterpret the needs of their children. When parents are in a fight, they organize themselves to win – sometimes at any cost. In that struggle, they often enlist their children’s support, thereby turning them against the other parent. They encourage the children to take sides, to love one and not the other. They use them as pawns, as trophies, as spies informants. The children are seen as something to fight over, as prizes to win to prove that one parent is...

    • 11. Traditional Custody and Access Arrangements
      (pp. 119-144)

      If you have a more traditional arrangement, with your children living primarily with one of you (the residential parent) and visiting with the other (the nonresidential parent), you need to prepare yourself for a period of adjustments, both practical and emotional. You will have to come to terms with major changes in your living situation, and a new routine with your children.

      If you are the nonresidential parent, your friends and relatives may become angry and upset on your behalf. Increasingly, as grandparents receive formal recognition in parenting plans and legal arrangements, their opinions and preferences will influence your views...

  6. Part III Damage Control

    • 12. When You Have to Go to Court and Clinical Assessments
      (pp. 147-155)

      For many parents there is both stress and relief associated with going to court.Reliefbecause someone else – a judge – will finally make the decision for you, and because you will afterwards have less contact your ex-partner. Andstressbecause you will have little influence on the decision. It is important for you to know what the court process involves, how much it will cost, and how you can minimize your child’s anguish as he watches his parents position themselves for a formal fight over him.

      There are very few reasons to go to court after divorce. Most disputes about...

    • 13. Special Issues: Absent Parents, Spousal Assault, Supervised Access, and Sexual Abuse Allegations
      (pp. 156-174)

      The return of an absent parent is difficult and challenging for the child, the returning parent, and the residential parent. If well handled, a reunion can be a positive experience for the child. Children want to know their parents. And it is very important for them to talk to the returning parent about his or her absence, because children often blame themselves when a parent leaves.

      There are many different reasons why parents leave. Some cannot tolerate the pain of the conflict and the feeling that their child is rejecting them. Others may have had addictions or criminal problems that...

    • Conclusion
      (pp. 175-176)

      Perhaps people enter into marriage and parenthood a little too quickly and with not quite enough thought. In Britain in the 1980s, concern about rising divorce rates and their social consequences resulted in the development of state-financed programs to support marriage. Therapeutic interventions were offered at the most crucial points in marriage: the premarriage period, the time of the first child, and the ‘empty-nest’ stage, when children leave home.

      Perhaps we need to rethink our traditional (authoritarian) model of family life, which persists to this day. We need to actively encourage age a more egalitarian model – one that involves both...

  7. Appendix
    (pp. 177-180)
  8. References
    (pp. 181-185)