Kids in the Middle

There are many aspects of family law which I practice, from divorce to child support enforcement to adoption and everything in between. It is a stressful but often rewarding area of practice, and one which I usually enjoy.

It seems to me, though, more and more people are happy using their children as pawns and punishment against their spouse/ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend during and after the process of separation, and that type of, in my opinion, child abuse needs to stop.

In Texas, the standard that all orders, from child support to visitation to termination and adoption are based upon one overriding theme: what is in the Best Interest of the Child.

I tell each and every family client who comes to see me about getting a divorce or setting up visitation and support regarding their child(ren) than I refuse to work for someone who intends to use their minor children to hurt their ex. I politely but very seriously explain that if I have even a tiny thought that they are asking me to take some action which is less in the best interest of their child and more about hurting their ex, I will fire them as a client.

And often you can tell from the outset who will be that type of client. I occasionally get a prospective client who has fired two or three previous attorneys. Now, it is possible, considering the number of attorneys in the DFW area, and your bad luck, that you hired someone who was incompetent or lazy. Hell, you may have even found 2 consecutive bad lawyers. But, the odds are incredibly against something like that happening.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are hiring your 4th attorney on your case, here’s a tip: the problem is not, most likely, all the other attorneys. It’s you.

Now, back to my original theme, the children are in this position through no fault of their own, and it is more than unfair to use them in such a way. The early childhood years are the building blocks to creating the functioning adult you want your little baby to become. And of course, your child is the beautiful, intelligent, good-hearted creature he or she is because he or she came from your genes.

By hurting your ex by, say, refusing to allow her to have as much possession as possible with the child, or by limiting your ex-boyfriend’s access to your kid with trivial justification, you hurt your child much more. And in a much more permanent way.

Things like refusing to allow your ex to take the kid to the orthodontist, because you provide the dental insurance, is petty and vindictive. And if you do something like that because your new spouse wants you to, you are cruel and a coward.

As a new father, I’m all too aware of the incredible pain that losing access to my child would cause. I can’t imagine not getting to see him wake up in the morning, much less take his first step, or say his first (intelligible and recognizable) word.

In the 9+ years I have been practicing family law, I’ve never had to fire a client for trying to use their child against an ex. But I have refused to take on a few new clients because of that. And I can only hope that those prospective clients were turned away by every other attorney they solicited until their attitudes changed.

I don’t mean to discount or belittle situations where a parent is truly dangerous or abusive toward a child. Unfortunately many situations occur where a parent needs to have possession and access to a child monitored, curtailed, even eliminated, until that parent gets their own problems under control. And occasionally termination of parental rights is the only way to ensure the safety of the child. Parents who will purposefully hurt their child are not parents.

But that is the exception and not the rule.

Try to put the negative energy you have toward your ex into raising a child that will grow into the better man or woman you want them to be. Hopefully that energy will allow your child to grow up and pass on the positive skills you have taught to their own kids.

If you feel the need to punish your ex in this way, seek counseling, for yourself and your child. The kids can quickly pick up on the negative actions, even if they don’t understand what is actually transpiring.

I know this is a charged topic, one which will be addressed again in the near future.

Most publications address children’s mental health in this area by addressing children of divorce, but I think the science is the same regardless of the marital status of the parents. For some resources for dealing with children and divorce, you can scratch the surface here:

http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_and_divorce

http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/index.aspx

I’ll be posting much more on family law soon.