The number of American children who live with both of their parents is at or below 70%. Statistics also reveal that children of divorce are disadvantaged compared to other kids and that effective co-parenting is essential to ensuring their mental and emotional well-being. Family law attorneys warn that while most of these parents are well intentioned, it is very common for children to assume problematic roles known as loyalty traps that interfere with their emotional growth.
There is abundant evidence that children who have a healthy relationship with both parents thrive. This is easier to achieve when everyone lives in the same household, but that isn’t possible when the parents are divorced. Co-parenting is a strategy to achieve those healthy relationships despite the additional challenges that come with the family unit being split. This approach is about more than shared equal responsibility. The goal here is to achieve a united front and a consistent home environment in order to ensure that the children are properly cared for and socialized and can excel in school.
More than 90% of all custody agreements are reached without a court ruling. The vast majority of people who have children and get divorced want to do what is in the best interest of the kids. Divorce attorneys recommend establishing a co-parenting plan to which both parents can agree and adhere to. It is possible to include some or all of that plan in the custody order. However, if the divorced couple have a healthy relationship and are working together productively, a family lawyer will generally recommend against this as it will allow the plan to change organically as opposed to going through a formal process.
Many experts stress the one thing parents should acknowledge above all else is that divorce will change your children. Some negative impact is unavoidable, and so the goal is to minimize the effect and put measures in place to help them overcome it. A good co-parenting plan is an excellent start as it provides the children with stable and healthy relationships with their parents. Parents must also remain vigilant to avoid loyalty traps, which are unhealthy roles that your children may take on.
A loyalty trap is a relationship role that a child assumes but shouldn’t. It is a parent-child relationship that undermines the relationship between the child and other parent and has a detrimental mental and emotional effect on the child that can manifest in many different ways, including:
It’s important to appreciate that there are two main ways that kids take on these roles, which are being influenced by the parent and seeing a need for the role and filling it. Parents therefore have to be vigilant on both fronts and must be mindful that loyalty traps often occur unintentionally. The four fundamental loyalty traps that you have to watch for are:
According to many divorce lawyers and other professionals, spying is the is the most common of the loyalty traps. This is often presented as one parent asking a child to give them information about the other parent, such as whether there is a new person in their life or there have been changes to their employment.
Most parents would never intentionally put their child in that role, but it is rather easy to do unintentionally. After all, you may be naturally curious about what the children did while away. Still, experts recommend avoiding these questions and directing them to the co-parent instead. You may have a child who wants to share their experiences, and that’s fine. It’s different than probing them for information, but you should also be vigilant of them sharing details that are outside the purview of the normal parent-child dialogue.
The messenger role is perhaps the easiest loyalty trap to fall into according to many family lawyers because it may come quite natural to you due to the habits you formed during marriage. You may think nothing of it to instruct your child to tell the other parent this or that, but experts warn that even seemingly innocuous messages put children in a difficult situation that has an effect on them emotionally.
Texting has made co-parenting easier, and you should also set aside some time to talk about issues that are bigger than texting allows. If your reason for messaging through your child is that you want to minimize contact with the ex-spouse, then you may want to consider setting up a communication book, which is a powerful tool used for parallel parenting scenarios.
Divorce attorneys advise watching for signs that your child is being put into adult situations and forced to grow up too soon. Children can sense the needs of the parent and may feel as if they should be more mature and attentive.
In past generations, it was common to tell boys that they were the men of the house, but we know now that this creates an incredible amount of stress on the child and should be avoided. Another common way this trap manifests is that children ask the custodial parent why the other parent left. Parents often feel the need to provide an answer, but experts warn that this is a mistake if you confide in them information that they are not emotionally ready to hear.
The fourth loyalty trap is being an ally. Some parents will actively recruit a child as an ally while many others are simply hurting and reach out for support without appreciating the ramifications for the child. Another common mistake parents make is wanting to be viewed by the children as the better parent. It can be particularly hard on the custodial parent who has to deliver the tough love while the other parent gets to be the fun one.
This is very difficult on a child. It strains the relationship with the other parent, and we now know that it is a prominent cause of anorexia and other eating disorders in girls.
Parallel parenting is a form of co-parenting used when the relationship is too toxic for the traditional approach. It isn’t ideal but is better than the alternative, which is a toxic environment for the children. In this scenario, you have to be vigilant of loyalty traps that your ex-spouse is creating, and divorce lawyers note that an updated agreement through the courts may be your only recourse to stop the behavior.
If you’re getting divorced and you want to ensure that you’re putting your children in the best possible position to succeed in life, Lawrence Law would like to help. Our New Jersey law firm has offices in Watchung and Red Bank and extensive experience with collaborative divorce, divorce mediation, child custody, parenting time, and other family law areas that may pertain to your situation. To schedule a consultation with a family law attorney, call us at 908-645-1000 or fill out and submit the form on our website.