Like most married couples, my husband and I argue occasionally. Fortunately, we don’t have the knockdown, drag out, name calling kind of arguments, and we try not to argue in front of our kids. However, we are not perfect parents, and at times, tempers will flare, patience will be lost, and we will have an argument in front of our kids. Recently, one such argument occurred in front of my eight-year old son.My son is a pretty typical eight-year old boy, rough and tumble, sports orientated, lots of fun, but he is also still only eight and is sweet and sensitive at times. My husband and I did not consider this side of him when we stupidly argued during a hectic morning before work and school. We both ended up leaving for work angry with each other and with our eight-year old in tears. That night, when I was putting our son to bed, he began to cry and said, “I don’t want you and daddy to get divorced.” As a divorce attorney, one would think that hearing these words would not have any real emotional impact upon me. However, hearing them from my eight-year old’s sweet mouth with tears streaming down his face was like a knife in my heart. I said to him, “Honey, Mommy and Daddy are not getting divorced, and do you even know what divorce means?” He looked at me and said, “Yes, it is when moms and dads live in separate houses, and everybody misses each other.” From my eight-year old came a very simple and real truth. It made me stop and think about something that I may have not thought about in a very long time. That is, the emotional impact that divorce has on kids.
I have been practicing family law for more than 20 years, and I am not suggesting that I don’t consider the emotional impact of divorce upon children, but I can’t say that it has been my focus in recent years, nor has it been the focus of the vast majority of my clients. Instead, my advocacy has often focused on ensuring a fair and equitable division of the parties’ marital estate and future financial security for my client. A child’s welfare certainly plays into that advocacy, but my son’s very simple explanation of what divorce is really hit home and made me realize that at times, family law attorneys may get lost in the advocacy of their clients’ financial positions and not consider counseling their clients on the emotional impact of divorce upon their children.
I do not proclaim to be a psychologist, a perfect parent, or one who can ensure the emotional well-being of a client’s child during a divorce process. I also know that there are multiple resources for parents going through divorce to help them focus on their child’s emotional needs during a very difficult and traumatic time for their family. But, hearing my son’s words made me realize that ensuring a child’s emotional well-being during the divorce process may be as simple as acknowledging the very definition that my son had placed on divorce. A child’s life is turned upside down. He and his family are no longer together, and they are missing each other. So for myself, any of my colleagues in the family law profession who happen to read this, and for any parents going through the emotional trauma of a divorce, my advice to you is to think about my son’s simple definition of divorce. Remember that your child’s world has been turned upside down, and he is missing the life he once had. I know I will.