Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Children & Divorce

Protecting the innocence of children

Source: iStock

We are living in a time of evolving sensitivity to communities who have been disempowered. For instance, you don’t have to know someone with a disability to understand the burdens placed on people who look, or act differently, or need accommodations just to reach a level playing field.

It is the sign of a vibrant society to acknowledge those who lie outside the mainstream may require change from that very mainstream.

An Invisible Community

There is an invisible community that deserves our attention. It’s a community that can’t fight for their rights; a community that suffers from the actions of others, and yet must adjust, sometimes radically, both for the good and for the bad.

You might ask how this can be possible. After all, some of these kids come from privileged homes, while others have parents who care. Some even have attorneys assigned to them. Yet, what I have discovered after countless therapy cases and offering courses in divorce, is that most of the children of divorce did not ask for this.

Yet, these small people are asked to make changes that are hard, sudden and unnerving. Plus the parents they always counted on are often preoccupied, angry, betrayed or sullen, and have little constructive energy to give. They are often dis-empowered by the loss of support during a divorce.

Divorce Has Value

Let's be clear - I am not taking the social warrior role against divorce. No. Divorce is a necessary part of our world. We live a short life here on this planet, and every man and woman should have the opportunity to find the peace and reward of being loved. There is nothing so awful as coming home to a place where you are not loved. It is the spiritual equivalent to chalk squeaking on the blackboard. Intolerable.

So, yes, couples should divorce if there is abuse or pain that cannot be healed. And, it can be constructive for children to see their parents opting for happiness, a model to children that life is precious and we are not to be trapped.

Divorce Island

The problem is that once divorce is initiated people often land in what I like to call, Divorce Island, a place where the old rules often don’t apply.

Parents regress at the very moment that they need to be great parents, guiding their progeny through the process, and can fail to give them what they need. Mind you, I am not bashing parents. Hardly. But consider what many are feeling. Some feel abandoned, some are terrified about money, while some are dating like crazy and enjoying sex again like it’s gone out of style.

Some are seething in rage, while others are simply depressed or grieving.

Add to this picture the stigma of divorce and how many of your friends fail you. And, then add in a drawn out legal disentanglement, with the sense of injustice and dis-empowerment that can go along with it.

How do you forgive? Move on? And, yet you have to raise your children through it all. No wonder people make mistakes.

Thank goodness for good matrimonial attorneys (yes, they exist), mediation and collaborative law. Thank goodness for good judges (an overworked lot, but most are excellent despite the workload and daily drama).

Question: Is this any way to disentangle the sacred and tender bonds of a family, the primary place in our society for love and honor? Not really. But it is the best we can do.

Mistakes Are Made – But Who Remembers?

Nevertheless, within all this change and uncertainty, you have to raise your children sanely. You are pissed off at your husband because he has a new lover, and you can’t help but try to get you children to side with you. Justice? Maybe. But, don’t be surprised if years later, your children tell you they didn’t want to be pulled into the middle.

You hate your wife for taking so much money…funds that you earned with hard work, perseverance, and sweat. So, you want to let the kids know that you can’t afford to live “decently” because mommy took it all. Yes, you may feel good in the moment, but you know in your gut that it’s destructive. Yet you say it anyway.


  • Does this unhappy ex-wife or ex-husband remember what was said the next day? Probably not; most likely they have moved on.
  • Do the children remember what was said the next day? Probably yes; and maybe for life.

Welcome to Divorce Island.

One Answer – The Intelligent Divorce

I designed The Intelligent Divorce Course to help families navigate divorce with, yes, intelligence. After two books, years as an expert witness in custody disputes and countless cases, I am offering a viable way. It is not that difficult to understand.

Consider defensive driving. When someone gets too many tickets the government mandates that they take a course in driving, so they know the mistakes they are going to make before they make them. That is why you are taught to turn into a skid when driving on ice, which may be counter-intuitive but can save your life.

Let’s also see divorce as a public health issue.

Divorce Island really exists and people make mistakes that are costly to the children. There are courses on divorce in the market, but I thought what if we hire actors and animators we can more graphically show parents – early in the divorce process – the common mistakes they can make.

  • The best mistake, after all, is the one you don’t make.

Prevention, prevention, prevention...

Protecting the Innocence of Children

We bring children into this world and owe them innocence, for as long as we can. They need not worry about adult matters. They deserve their childhood.

On Divorce Island that innocence is threatened constantly, but it can be maintained.

Empowering Your Children

Many children whose parents are going through a divorce experience dis-empowerment. This means that while your child might normally feel enabled, with a lack of support they might feel less confident. This can accompany the stress of divorce, and it is important for you to make sure your child has the resources he or she needs to succeed.

One way you can help empower your child is by getting them a psychologist or psychiatrist who can be a guide through the divorce and provide a safe space for their most private thoughts and worries. This is especially important if you or your ex are feeling overwhelmed.

Of course, another way you can empower a child if by giving them the attention they need and deserve without dragging them into the middle of your conflict.

Children, like everyone else, may react differently to the drastic changes going on in their lives. Some will regress, or act out, while others will try to be as good as possible. Yet others may, unfortunately, be forced to take on the role of the parent, whether for themselves or for their siblings. It’s critical that you pay attention to your child’s needs and make sure this is not the case.

Divorce - A Roadmap

It is best to get a lay of the land before jumping in. That is what we are doing with our Intelligent Divorce work.

If one set of parents learn how to fight without involving the children, a child’s soul is spared. And, if a single parent has to do it alone, there are ways to be successful as well. One parent doing it right can make all the difference in the world.

That is the goal of the Intelligent Divorce Course project.

Two million people divorce every year in the United States.

Let’s soften the blow.


Research Assistant, Gabriel Banschick

More from Mark Banschick M.D.
More from Psychology Today