- Susan Moss is an attorney in New York.
- He occasionally serves as an attorney for children during contested divorces.
- This is Moss’ story as she told Kelly Burch.
This essay is based on a conversation with Susan Moss. Edited for length and clarity.
As an attorney working in family and matrimonial law, I work primarily with adults. But occasionally, I am appointed by a judge to serve as an advocate for children. This means that I am there solely to represent children who are in the middle of their parents’ battle.
I had a front row seat to the end of many a wedding. Here’s what I think every parent going through a divorce should know.
Children’s voices matter
Often, when adults discuss divorce settlements, they focus on what the parents want. But the children are the ones who have to shuffle back and forth between two homes. So listen to their opinions too.
Maybe your teen is working hard to get straight A’s and moving house in the middle of the week disrupts his study routine. Maybe your high schooler doesn’t want to go to mom’s town for the summer when all her friends will be where dad lives.
These concerns may seem trivial to adults, and children will sometimes have unreasonable demands. But if your child expresses a reasonable, mature opinion, you should at least consider it.
Children may tell you different things
Children are often people pleasers, especially the people they love. They might tell dad they want to live with him, then turn around and tell mom they never want to leave her house. They don’t lie – they speak their truth in that moment.
So don’t be surprised if your child tells you one thing, your ex-spouse another, and the lawyer another entirely. I have learned to ask questions in at least three ways in different settings to understand how a child is really feeling.
You don’t need a plan that will work forever
As children grow and their needs change, your custody arrangements will need to adjust. I always tell my clients that it’s important to go with the flow.
Reevaluate your agreement after a significant change for you, your ex-spouse, or your child. At the very least, the beginning of middle school or high school offers a significant period of adjustment.
Don’t badmouth your husband
Divorces bring up many emotions, including frustration and anger. And since your child is involved, you may be tempted to vent to them, especially if they’re older. But save the “you’ll never believe what he did” conversations for your friends.
Your parent is usually the only mother or father your child will have. He may not be a perfect parent, but your child doesn’t need to know all the ways he’s failed. Instead, respect the important role this person has in your child’s life.
Keep a united front
Parents always ask me what is the best custody plan for kids. There is one answer: It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that parents are on the same page. If the parents are fighting, they can have whatever schedule you want, but the child will feel the negative effects of the divorce. If you present a united front and are at least cordial, your children will do much better.
If you get everything you want, something went wrong
In highly contested divorces, parents often have to do co-parenting education. And nine times out of 10, when I ask my clients about this, they say, “I really hope my husband saw what I did.”
But there’s the catch: These nasty divorces are almost never one-sided. You have to realize that the other side has a point of view and their point of view is usually not 100% wrong. There has to be a happy compromise in the middle. If you get 100% of what you want, it is often not in the best interest of the child.