In Your Child’s Best Interest: A Guide for Divorcing Parents (E2723)

In Your Child’s Best Interest: A Guide for Divorcing Parents (E2723)

During the chaotic and emotional period of separation and divorce, parents may think it is impossible to cooperate with each other.

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In your Child’s Best Interest: A Guide for Divorcing Parents

During the chaotic and emotional period of separation and divorce, parents may think it is impossible to cooperate with each other. It is a period of great pain, involving feelings of guilt and failure; the loss of security, friendship, and love; and the necessity of facing some of the less-attractive aspects of oneself such as revenge, bitterness, and great anger. For many, it is the hardest time of their lives….but if they want their children to grow into loving, caring, feeling people, parents must create a tolerable situation for them when they are young.

A healing affirmation parents say to themselves is the following: “My children are counting on me. What happened in the past is over. I will learn from my experiences, accept my losses, and create anew beginning for myself and my children.” – Florence Bienenfeld

How your children come through your divorce will depend on the relationship you reconstruct with your ex-spouse after the divorce. Parents’ attitudes and actions make a big difference in how children adjust to the transition. We realize that not many parents are able to be friends after a divorce; however, we have found that when parents can be fair, civil, and businesslike in their dealing with each other, the unfinished business of raising their children can be productive. The primary purpose of this booklet is to encourage you as a concerned and loving parent experiencing divorce to rebuild both yourself and your family relationship in a new and healthy way—without destroying the lives of those you love—and in the best interest of your children. It is possible, and your children’s future will depend on you finding a way to put their needs first, even in a time of great personal distress.

This booklet includes material originally developed by Lorraine N. Osthaus, Director of Family Counseling at the Oakland County Friend of the Court, in consultation with the SMILE Program developers and Friend of the Court staff in the 6th Judicial Court of Michigan. Appreciation is extended to The Honorable Edward Sosnick for permission to use this information in other Michigan counties. Information has also been included from Divorce and Family Stress developed by Anne K. Soderman for Michigan State University Extension and Families First, a support program developed by Beverly Bradburn-Stern and Richard C. Marley for Superior Court of Cobb County in Marietta, GA. We are grateful to the children of St. Gerard School in Lansing, Michigan, for the illustrations that tell us so honestly about divorce from a child’s perspective. We are also indebted to Patricia Potter, director of the peer counseling program at St. Gerard’s, for her professional contributions and valuable insights. We hope you find the information helpful in making the divorce process easier for both you and your children.

You can use this booklet:

  • As a resource for information about the various and specific ways children react to divorce.
  • As a guide to help you make effective decisions about custody and visitation matters
  • As a reminder about the pitfalls of post-divorce behaviors that can hamper your healthy adaptation to family transition.
  • As a reference that will direct you toward additional sources of support and renewal


As a divorcing parent, you are probably anxious about how your divorce will affect your children—and for how long. While it would be comforting to believe that “time heals all wounds,” we now know that growing up can be more difficult for children of divorce. On top of normal developmental tasks, children whose parents divorce must cope with an additional set of tasks specific to the divorce experience. Understanding these tasks can give parents some direction in helping children do more than just live with the pain, chaos, and stress that comes with divorce.

Divorcing parents are frequently caught in a dilemma: While they know their children need them more than ever, they often find themselves less emotionally available. Instead, their thoughts are centered primarily on how to deal with their own personal problems. For a time, that is natural. However, an inability to quickly regain a reasonable and effective focus on parenting often results in increased stress levels for everyone—and insures that the impact of the divorce on children will be more harmful than it needs to be.

Experience has taught us that while a marriage may end, the family does not. We also know that it is not the event of the divorce itself that harms a child, but rather the continued conflict between parents that can result in childhood problems such as anger, depression, poor grades, fear, alcohol and drug abuse, and delinquency. The good news is that, through cooperative efforts, parents can prevent or minimize the negative impact of divorce on their children. To the extent that you can learn to set aside your own conflicts, increase your awareness about how divorce can affect your child, and restructure your family relationships in a new and health way, the future for your children can be happier and more secure. It will take time and personal growth, but it’s good to keep in mind that bad times have an ending as well as a beginning.


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