Walking away from a marriage without walking over the kids

Marriage is a contract between adults, and when it ends, the matter is between the adults. Yet, no parental action has a greater impact on children. Children love their parents and want to be with them. Even in times of great stress, parents have a responsibility to conduct their legal affairs in a manner that will protect their children from adult conflicts.

At a minimum, children are entitled to the following Bill of Rights.

Your child has the right to:

  • not be questioned upon their return from the other parent’s home or asked to provide information about the other parent.
  • be reassured that they are safe and their needs will be provided for.
  • be guided, taught, supervised, disciplined, and nurtured by each parent, without interference from the other parent.
  • not have to hear hostile, negative, or otherwise critical comments about the other parent.
  • not have to defend, take sides with, or denigrate the other parent.
  • not make adult decisions, including where they will live, where and when they will be picked up or dropped off, or who is to blame for the conflict between their parents.
  • stay in contact with relatives, including grandparents and special family friends.
  • not be a messenger between parents: not to carry notes, legal papers, money, or requests between parents.
  • a personal sleeping area and space for personal belongings in each parents’ home.
  • be protected from people who are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • a stable, consistent, and responsible child care arrangement when not supervised by the parents.
  • have a daily and weekly routine that is predictable and can be verified by looking at a schedule on a calendar in a system that is understandable to the child.
  • participate in activities that support their unique interests and to have adults who will get them to these events, on time, without guilt or shame.
  • have their parents behave in a civil and responsible manner with each other, when the child is present or within hearing range.
  • expect that both parents will follow through with the parenting plan, honoring specific commitments for scheduled time.
  • have both parents informed about medical, dental, educational, extracurricular, and family matters concerning the child, unless such disclosure would prove harmful to the child.
  • have their developmental and special needs given appropriate consideration and adaption in any child care plan.
This information was provided by Stephen Carter, Ph.D, R.Psych, Bonnie Haave, Ph.D., R. Psych., and Shirley Vandersteen, Ph.D, R.Psych, at the AFCC 46th Annual Conference, Pre-Conference Institute “Family Restructuring Therapy for High Conflict Families.”