The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Child-Centered Divorce

What is child-centered divorce?

A child-centered divorce is a framework for divorcing parents to commit to engaging in doing what is truly best for the children, despite the anger and emotions they might feel toward one another.

What negative effects do child-centered divorce advocates hope to avoid for children of divorce?

Studies have correlated divorce with a number of psychological problems in children.  These are:

  • Children of divorce tend to get lower grades than those from in tact families
  • Children of divorce tend to have higher rates of teenage smoking than those in nuclear families
  • Children of divorce tend to engage in sexual activity at earlier ages than those of in tact families
  • Children of divorce experience increased school dropout rates than those of in tact families
  • Children of divorce tend to have lower self-esteem than those of in tact families
  • Children of divorce tend to have fewer friends than those of in tact families
  • Children of divorce are more likely to be divorced themselves than those from nuclear families

A child-centered divorce is an approach to post-divorce conflict that has the goal of avoiding these negative statistics.  There is much evidence that how the parents approach the divorce and post-divorce relationship has more to do with helping children cope and become well-adjusted.  These negative effects of divorce can be prevented by combining high-quality parenting and child-centered divorce approaches.

What the biggest issues that child-centered divorced parents should attempt to avoid?

High-conflict parenting
When children are exposed to parents with a high-conflict relationship, everything becomes more difficult and stressful for them.  Custody exchanges can become incredibly uncomfortable situations.  Mentioning the other parent's name can lead to hostility and even parental alienation.  Children can even begin to feel it is their fault and that they can do something to make it better.

The stress induced on children as a result of high-conflict parenting is likely the primary cause for the negative effects that children of divorce experience.

Parental alienation
When parents alienate other parents, they are unknowingly harming their child.  Children will likely never have two people who love them more than their mother and father.  So, when that loving bond is systematically destroyed by acts of parental alienation, the children effectively lose the love and respect that helps keep them from making poor choices later in life.  If a teen feels that making a poor choice is going to betray the love and respect they feel from their parents, it helps them avoid succumbing to pier pressure, but when one parent is alienated out of the child's life, they significantly reduce their chances of being able to oppose pier pressure because, in their own minds, they don't have as much to lose.

Parental relocation
There are many reasons why parents might feel they need to relocate after a divorce, but when parents live far apart from each other, the relationship with the noncustodial parent is much more difficult.  While there may be a need for parents to relocate, a child-centered approach is to make it the last resort and communicate other alternatives before doing so.

How should a parenting plan be created for a child-centered divorce?

A parenting plan is required by some states, but not all.  Still, a parenting plan should be an integral part of any separating parents who desires a child-centered divorce.  It helps parents living in different homes think through many of the challenges that they will face, well before they are encountered.

A parenting plan should be done collaboratively.  Too often, divorces happen where one party is prepared and the other is caught off guard.  This tends to lead to a situation where the more prepared party has the upper hand in the ensuing child custody case.  They might look at the child custody case as a win or lose scenario.

A child-centered approach is different.  It understands that neither parent will get everything they want and that litigating to get it will not likely benefit the children; it will lead to a strained relationship for whatever is left of the family unit.  A child-centered approach to divorced parenting assumes that nobody truly wins a custody battle.

When creating the parenting plan from a child-centered perspective, parents should compare what they each want and work out ways to compromise on the differences.  This may seem to be an idealistic approach, but for parents who want the best possible situation that can occur after a divorce, this is really the only approach they can take.  They have to be willing to give up certain things to get the most important thing: happy, well-adjusted children.

If parents do not get along, can they still have a child-centered divorce?

There is no denying that high-conflict relationships will exist between divorced parents.  That does not have to mean they engage in high-conflict parenting, and even parents experiencing high conflict can remain child centered.

Parallel parenting is a way for parents who wish to be child-centered, to still do so, even if they are experiencing conflict.  Essentially, parallel parenting is the act of two parents agreeing to disagree and not fight for the sake of their children.  Parallel parents still communicate, but they do so in ways that avoid conflict triggers that often lead to arguments.  Much of the communication is done non-verbally via email or via divorced-parenting software.  Over time, people may transition to co-parenting if and when the conflict subsides.


What are some examples of child-centered divorce scenarios

Scenario (Parental Relocation)
John is a 15-year-old boy who has a wonderful relationship with both his father and mother.  His parents have been divorced for 12 years, so John cannot remember a time when his parents were together.  While John's father, Mark is the noncustodial parent, he only live 15 minutes away from his son, so they see each other all the time.  Both parents regularly attend John's soccer games, and John is good enough that he hopes to get a scholarship.

John's mother, Ann, has been involved with another person, Allen, who lives with her and John.  Allen just received a promotion in another city for his job.  If Allen takes the job, Ann will need to move if she is committed to that relationship.  She is debating what to do because of John's relationship with his father.

A Non-child-centered approach
Ann decides that Allen should take the job and they can all move.  She is the custodial parent, so she assumes that she can relocate if she feels it is best.

When the move happens, Mark fights the situation in family court, and the family is embroiled in conflict because of the parental relocation litigation.  Nobody is happy.

A child-centered approach
Ann talks to first to her partner, Allen, about the situation.  She thoroughly discusses the ramifications of what may happen if they move.  The promotion is for another $30,000 per year, but she points out that if she just moves without first consulting Mark, they may spend a great deal of money and frustration in litigation.  Furthermore, she explains that this will devastate John.  John will most likely have to give up soccer, and that could lead to resentment, not to mention possibly a lost scholarship.  She also points out that the drive to the custody exchanges will be time-consuming and expensive.  Allen wants the job, but he begins to realize that the move will likely not make anyone happier.

The idea
By communicating and thinking through the side-effects, people can work through a better solution to a problem.  It might not be the solution they had originally imagined, but often the ideas that people have at first, turn out to not be the best ones.  Communication is a fundamental aspect of child-centered divorce.

Scenario (Being there)
Stephanie is a 16 year old girl who loves music.  She has been taking piano lessons since she was five, and she has become extremely good at it.  She has a piano recital that means everything to her, and she wants both of her parents to be there.  The issue is that her parents are going through a divorce and a child-custody battle.  Her parents are not amicable, and Stephanie's father cannot stand to be in the same room as her mother.

A non-child-centereed approach
Stephanie's father apologizes to Stephanie and tells her he won't be coming.  Stephanie knows why, and she feels sad and devastated.  She feels guilt that this is somehow her fault.  She feels like she is not important enough for her dad to be able to put aside his anger, in order to do something important for his daughter.  The result is that this incident did nothing to lower the conflict.  It only served to keep it elevated, and Stephanie may remember this event for the rest of her life.

A child-centered approach.
Stephanie asks if her dad will be there.  Her dad explains that he is going to talk things over with her mom because no matter what they are going through, she is the most important part of his life.  Calling Stephanie's mom is an extremely difficult phone call, but her dad explains to her mom that even if they are feeling anger, he wants to make sure that they are always their, for their daughter.  It is tense, but her dad shows up, and Stephanie is proud of her father for doing the tough thing by not letting the anger be more important than her.

The idea
Every divorce is going to have conflict.  It might be higher or lower on the conflict-scale, but it is always there.  Life doesn't stop while the divorce is happening, and by not staying child-centered during the divorce, incredible damage can result, far beyond what the parents may imagine.  Typically, doing the more difficult thing, tends to be the correct thing.

Scenario (Parental Alienation)
Michael is a 7-year old boy.  His parents have divorced, and his mother has sole physical custody.  His father has visitation and pays $800 per month in child-support.  He is two months behind on the child support.  The $1,600 that she is owed is causing issues with her ability to pay bills.  Michael has a field trip with his class, and he wants to go.  The problem is it will cost $200.

A non-child-centered approach.
Because of the unpaid child support, Michael's mother tells Michael that she really wants for him to go, but she cannot afford it because his father has not paid the child support.  Michael feels extremely angry at his father for not paying.

A child-centered approach
Michael's mother is strained financially, and she is a bit angry at Michael's father for not paying child support.  She decides to call his father and let him know about the field trip.  She says that it would mean a lot to him to be able to go. She asks if he can pay the fee, and she will deduct that off of the unpaid child support that he is in arrears on.  The result is that Michael went on the field trip, his mom got some money immediately, the conflict was lowered somewhat, and Michael's father is much more likely to pay the balance of the child support.  Michael's mother could followup after the field trip and thank her son's father, letting him know what a good time he had.  This could do wonders for reducing conflict later and making it so Michael's father is more forthcoming with future child support payments.

The idea
Parental alienation is one of the worst things a parent can do to their children.  Anytime a parent denigrates another when the children can possible witness it is parental alienation.  There is no excuse for it, and if a person does it, they should admit the wrong they have done, apologize to the child, and attempt to build the other parent back up so the child does not feel resentment.  In the non-child centered example, after Michael's mother committed the alienation, she could attempt to undo it by explaining to Michael that he can go on the field trip, that his father is trying his best to pay the child-support, and that his unpaid child support had nothing to do with her initially saying he couldn't go.  While not paying child support is wrong, committing parental alienation after it is far more damaging.



Alternating Custody - Wikipedia
When there is significant distance between two divorced parents alternating custody is often a suitable custody arrangement.
What is joint custody of a child?
Joint custody is when both parents share physical and legal custody of their children...

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