By Janice Tract, M.S.W., A.C.S.W., B.C.D.

"As their father, I have the right to see my children whenever I want." "As a mother, I have the right to select my child's pediatrician." In my practice as a family therapist, I treat parents going through the difficult process of divorce. Often, people express a desire to hold on to their role as a parent through a declaration of the "rights" they believe they should not have to give up because they are divorced. When the focus centers on parental rights, rather than what is right for a child, this points to problems that need to be addressed if these two parties are ever going to be able to co-parent harmoniously.

On a basic level, divorce is experienced as emotional upheaval and a sense of loss. Dealing with minimizing the impact of this circumstance can lead either party to use their child(ren) to buffer negative emotions and hedge against the loss of a family life they once knew. Instead of making an adjustment that will benefit everyone in the family, this parent's main objective (whether conscious or unconscious) is to focus on his or her own need not to incur any more loss or changes as a result of the divorce. This feeling can be even stronger with the parent who did not seek the divorce.

I saw a father who demanded joint physical custody with a division of time exactly equal (to the hour) to a 50/50 split. During his marriage, he had spent very little time with his three small children, leaving much of the parenting duties to his wife while he devoted 80 hours a week to his business. When his wife decided to leave him, he saw his life breaking apart. He focused on his children as a way of cutting his losses. His wife gave in to his demands. However, his children were miserable. He could not relate to them well, refused to interact with them or become involved with their friends or activities. For this father's part, he was content because he had won his right to "half" his children's time. His children did not fare as well.

It is extremely important that children are enabled to have an unhampered relationship with both parents. They need this to make the adjustment to living in two homes, as well as to negotiate their normal developmental and psychological growth. Their rights should be foremost in any decisions regarding parenting time and decision-making. To this end, the Dane County Family Counseling Service of Madison, Wisconsin has come up with a bill of rights for children in divorced families. It bears consideration whenever the issue of parental "rights" conflicts with what is right for a child.

The "Bill of Rights for Children in Divorce Action" reads as follows:

  1. The right to be treated as important human beings, with unique feelings, ideas, desires and not as a source of argument between parents.
  2. The right to a continuing relationship with both parents and the freedom to receive love from and express love for both.
  3. The right to express love and affection for each parent without having to stifle that love because of fear of disapproval by the other parent.
  4. The right to know that their parents' decision to divorce is not their responsibility and that they will live with one parent and visit the other parent.
  5. The right to continuing care and guidance from both parents.
  6. The right to honest answers to questions about the changing family relationships.
  7. The right to know and appreciate what is good in each parent without one parent degrading the other.
  8. The right to have a relaxed, secure relationship with both parents without being placed in a position to manipulate one parent against the other.
  9. The right to have the custodial parent not undermine visitation by suggesting tempting alternatives or by threatening to withhold visitation as a punishment for the children's wrongdoing.
  10. The right to be able to experience regular and consistent visitation and the right to know the reason for a cancelled visit.


Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 02:30PM by Registered CommenterSite Administrator in | Comments Off

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