By Attorney Yvette Harrell
Special to THELAW.TV
It is now an all too common tale: They meet, fall in love, and have a baby (marriage optional). Everything seems great – a match made in heaven. Then, as if on cue, “Mr. Wonderful” becomes “Mr. Wanderer” and “Ms. Right” turns into “Ms. Ridiculous.” So the couple decides to go their separate ways, but neither knows exactly what that looks like. They begin to claim property, argue about everything, and place blame on one another. Then sadly, almost as an afterthought, the question is asked: What happens to the children now that the fairytale is over?
When children are involved in a break-up, couples find themselves trapped in what seems to be a never-ending maze of questions involving parenting, child support, and visitation. It is simply amazing how couples who were once so in love, suddenly question their ex’s character, integrity, and even their ability to properly raise children. Undying love flies out of the window and is replaced by flying accusations of gold-digging, greed, and deadbeat dads. Break-ups turn seemingly well-adjusted individuals into malicious, calculating, and vicious people and very little attention is paid directly to the real victims of these life changes – the children.
When parents turn against one another, they begin to use their children (sometimes unwittingly) as pawns in their chess game of “the big payback.” Parents then become active participants in scarring their children emotionally, socially and psychologically. In fact, there have been studies conducted which have revealed that when parents are not properly co-parenting, the children involved in those relationships develop slower and have more challenges learning and adjusting to everyday situations. One cannot help but wonder whether parents would modify their behavior towards one another if they knew that their arguments, accusations, and acrimony could lead to their children becoming developmentally challenged.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a happily-ever-after or falling in love. There is also nothing wrong with making a decision to leave a relationship when it no longer works for you. There is, however, something very wrong with burdening a child with participation in an adult dispute. Granted, children do not come with a “how to” manual, but it should be obvious that a parent’s primary objection should be to care for and protect their child.
Parents owe it to their children to love, guide, and care for them in spite of anything else. This obligation is not lessened because one experiences pain or heartbreak as a result of a relationship failure. When parents fail to meet this obligation, particularly as a result of focusing their attention on retaliation against the other parent, the real heartbreak belongs to the children. In spite of a failed relationship, if parents would turn their primary attention to the care of the little ones, their happily-ever-after is still possible … even if it has to be experienced vicariously through their children.
The author, Yvette Harrell, is a divorce lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.