Report On Advanced Interdisciplinary Training
Titled “An Inconvenient Truth: What the legal system tells us about children and divorce,” advanced training this year was presented by Carie Silvestri, Jennifer Leister, Melinda Eitzen, Honey Sheff, Curtis Harrison and Mickey Gayler. The trainers interviewed judges, attorneys, custody evaluators, mental health professionals, and attorneys ad litem to collect information about the effect of divorce on children.
Their main conclusion was that it doesn’t matter whether you get a litigated or a collaborative divorce, the main predictor of damage to children of divorce is whether the parents fight a lot during and after the divorce. However, since parents are more likely to cooperate during and after a collaborative divorce, the consensus was that is the preferred way to divorce in Texas.
The trainers reported that they found a wide variety of opinions among the judges and other professionals involved in dealing with children of divorce. Some believe children want to be involved in their parents’ divorce while others did not. Most agreed that children want their concerns listened to and acknowledged. Most of all, the children want their parents to stop fighting and get along after the divorce. Moreover, children want information about what is going on in the divorce, especially about items like child support and the parenting plan which affect them directly. Children don’t want to make decisions, but they do want to know what will happen to them after the divorce is finished.
The most important things children wanted to know about were money, seeing both parents, and being heard. Everyone involved with children and divorce believe that parents should shield their children from the effects of divorce and fighting. Judges were especially concerned about children who had been coached by their parents to say which parents they want to live with. The judges were very clear that they make the decision about where children will live, and only listen to children’s wishes, but they don’t always follow their wishes. Coaching is a strong negative for most judges and they usually restrict that parent’s access to the children.
A child specialist should be involved in the case when negotiations about the parenting plan reach an impasse, when there is alcohol abuse, when the parent’s perceptions of events are different, and in many other cases because the children need to be heard and given information about what is happening to them during the divorce. The major myths about child specialists are that they are too expensive, needed only in high conflict cases, and should only be used with problem kids, such as teens. But child specialists are helpful in many cases, they can actually save money by shortening the settlement period, and they are helpful for the children.
There are several situations where a collaborative team should consider bringing in a child specialist. These include when parents don’t agree about what’s in their children’s best interest, when parents have trouble agreeing on a parenting plan, when there is concern about how the kids are coping with the divorce, when there is a special needs child in the family, when children don’t see one parent, and when there are older children in the family who may have strong feelings about where they want to live.