People are understandably concerned about being able to manage financially after they separate; for separating parents with children, another important concern is whether or not their children will be all right. While both of these concerns are important to prioritize in the separation process, it’s also important to stop and ask what else needs protecting.
How are you taking care of your emotional health, your physical health, and your relationship with your former spouse? What does it really mean for children to be “all right”?
We recently read an interview with Julia Gresser, a mental health professional studying how divorce affects children, and many of these questions we mentioned came up when she spoke about less combative divorce options, specifically collaborative law.
Collaborative law takes a cooperative approach to divorce, keeping clients in control of the outcome. Each individual has their own lawyer, but they all work together to come up with a resolution that everyone is content with. The collaborative process often involves other professionals in the areas of finance, mental health, and parenting to ensure that the family is receiving the support they need.
“In the collaborative model, the emotional landscape is acknowledged and discussed. We ask, ‘What’s worked well for you as a couple, and what are the hot spots? How will you react in a meeting with your spouse?’ This is an opportunity to assist people in managing difficult emotions and in communicating effectively so that parents feel heard and respected even when they disagree,” says Julia Gresser. “If they can strengthen or learn new skills in this process, it will benefit them long after in their ongoing co-parenting relationship.”
This attention to each person’s emotional landscape creates an environment of respect and feeling heard, something many clients say is extremely positive for them. Gresser notes that anger, fear, and disappointment are often present and, when not addressed, can impact the outcome of issues like custody and property settlement. Feeling upset and wanting to seek revenge doesn’t always result in the most productive long-term resolutions.
Putting your child first is a noble pursuit, but neglecting your own physical and emotional health won’t help anyone. To add to that point, the health of your relationship with your former spouse will also contribute to how well your child adjusts to the transition.
Through Gresser’s research, she says, “We know that there is a direct relationship between how well children cope during and after a breakup and how effectively parents are able to co-parent. Good co-parenting requires parents to communicate with clarity, respect and courtesy.”
She goes on to say that children are most negatively affected by divorce when the parents continue to have high levels of conflict after the divorce, when one parent is unavailable to the child and their relationship is severed, and when children adopt the role of caregiver to one or both of their parents.
“[Collaborative law] supports the parent to find emotional support other than the child, to stay engaged and calm, and to work toward a settlement without escalating conflict and hurt feelings,” says Gresser.
Acknowledging that protecting your family means more than addressing your financial future and custody solutions is part of our approach as family lawyers. As a family law firm that works with out-of-court legal methods like mediation and collaborative law, we see Gresser’s research play out in real life every day.