Most people realize that divorce has a long term effect on children. What some may not realize is the extent of the emotional impact of a protracted and contested divorce on even small children. The following are quotes from children aged 4 to 6 who were asked to share their thoughts on divorce and on lawyers and to give suggestions to divorce lawyers and judges:
Divorce is when you pay lawyers a lot of money to wreck your family.
Lawyers can be good and bad. They help people and give them tips, but they take a lot of money.
They lie a little bit to help you win; it’s someone you can buy.
I talked to one once and I thought she listened. But she took care of the money and not me.
Suggestions for Lawyers and Judges
I would tell them to make Mommy and Daddy get along. I’m too little. I can’t. If they can’t, then don’t stretch it out please.
Keep that grey tape in the court hall so that they don’t say stuff that hurts people’s feelings.
In a collaborative divorce, the parties seek to minimize the amount of pain experienced by children and parents by agreeing to participate in a series of negotiations to address all aspects of their divorce. Collaborative lawyers are specially trained to work with their clients in this process. The parties and their lawyers also decide whether additional support professionals should be included within the collaborative team. These individuals are also trained in collaborative practice and assist with questions concerning finances and children. In addition to a financial advisor and a therapist, parties can also include a child specialist in the process.
A child specialist works in much the same way as a guardian ad litem in that the specialist acts as a voice for the children in the divorce process. Unlike the guardian, the child specialist does not assess the parents and children and does not make custody recommendations. The child specialist is a member of the collaborative divorce team who acts as a neutral advocate for the children.
Like all members of the collaborative divorce team, the child specialist is trained in the principles of collaborative law. During the parties’ initial meeting, the parties and their collaborative team will discuss the role of the children in the collaborative divorce process. In many situations, the children will be heard in the process through the child specialist, but will not participate directly. Even in cases where there is a minimal level of conflict, it may be in the children’s best interest to be kept out of the collaborative meetings. Having children attend one such meeting, even in a neutral non-adversarial setting, can place the children in the uncomfortable position of having to choose sides. By having the children speak to a child specialist, parents can give their children a say in the process without placing them squarely within a situation that may be too emotionally difficult for them.