CYA (Covering Your Assets): The Naked Truth around Child Custody Disputes

In a former article written for the San Joaquin County Bar Association entitled A Child Divided: Healing the Psychological Wound of Divorce (Maples, 2015), I re-told the biblical story from Kings 3:16-28 from a modern day psychological perspective. In the biblical rendition, it is said that two women fought vehemently over the custody of a young child, after the death of one woman’s child left her so grief stricken she could only do the unthinkable, steal the other woman’s child. As the two parties stood before the king, they both begged for the life of their child, neither party budging from their claims that the right to the children was naturally theirs as a mother. One party was innocent, the other lying, and both ridden with grief over the loss of their child. Who was right? Who was guilty? and What was to become of the child? Only the king, as judge between the two parties could decide the fait between two warring parties and the innocent victim caught between their vicious melee.

Sound Familiar?

It should. It is the story played out between the warring couples of broken marriages nearly every day in our local family court system. In many cases, the parents love their children; and rightfully so, they want to be able to spend uninterrupted time with the one’s they love. For it is the children, from whom they will most likely judge the success or the failure within their own life. However, why is it when two people decide to divide their relationship, so many times children become fodder in financial games that ultimately lead to great hardships within their lives. This lesson is one that should not be taught to children, for it leads to a thwarted value system that states the extent of their value is monetary, forcing them to a position of becoming collateral damage between their parents war to divide assets v. liabilities.

Divorce is a disturbing phenomenon that must be addressed both at the personal level of the child (The child receiving personal therapy to make sense of their emotions as it relates to the division of their family), and within the family system that is now dividing. While the intact family no longer operates in unison in this case, it must continue to act as a fostering agent to the child’s continued emotional wellbeing. Parents may be divided, but the child still views them as Mom and Dad, and this will never change, no matter how contested the divorce is, or how hard one party may try to buy for the love of their child while discounting the other party’s right to be a parent of their child.

So what can we do?

Look within. If you say, “well that doesn’t pertain to my case,” or “my case is different,” or “this is so my child can have a better life,” you better think again. Children are not collateral to be divided for monetary gain or to be used as pawns in a war against your ex for retribution. Too many times, when highly contested custody disputes emerge, it is caused by warring parties fighting for their own egocentric aims at the expense of the child’s psychological welfare, who in most circumstances is acting more adult like than the parents who claim to fight for their best interests.

So if you find yourself in a custody dispute, before looking to drag it out, think twice about who’s needs you are attempting to serve. Also, realize that the type of triangulation you are causing within this child is psychological maltreatment at the least, if not outright abusive to their developing emotions and minds. By going within, you may find that the disputes you have are your own, have nothing to do with your child, and can ultimately serve to alienate them from the positive interpersonal relationships they will need to grow into a healthy individual.

Dr. Tom

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