You know you are intrigued by the title of the blog, but what does it really mean? I was in a recent mediation session in a divorce matter when the mediator referred to the child as his “client”. What he meant was that the child’s interests and well-being were his primary concern above all else, but the concept resonated with both parties involved and focused their attention, at least for the moment, away from the financial issues at hand.
All too often the litigant mantra is that he or she wants to do what is best for Little Johnny or Susie, but, as one would expect, opinions differ – especially between the litigants – as to what that means. For instance, mom may believe that it is in the child’s best interests that she be the primary residential custodian, while dad may believe 50/50 is the way to go. Neither party may necessarily be wrong, but ultimately an agreement has to be reached, or a court-decision rendered that is in the “client’s” best interests.
Here are a few other tips to ensure that the “client” is properly cared for during a litigation and beyond:
1. Don’t talk badly about the other parent with or in front of your kid! It is so easy to say, yet seemingly so hard to do for some, if not most parents. You’d be amazed what a child will overhear and absorb. Even negative body language in front of the other party while the child is there sends a message. You may brush it off as nothing, but the impact of your words or actions can have long-lasting effects.
2. Don’t talk about your case with or in front of your kid! No child should ever be exposed to what is happening in a divorce proceeding or the issues that may directly or indirectly impact upon him or her. While even the most off-hand comment may seem innocuous, I can’t tell you how many times clients report to me about what the children know about that latest motion that was filed, or that support payment that wasn’t made.
3. In connection with the above – Don’t try to curry favor with your kid! This is not a contest. There are no blue ribbons at the end, and your child is not the prize. The “client” does not need to be tugged both ways simply to make you feel better about yourself and your parenting role in the child’s life. It may sound harsh, but it happens all the time, even in the most amicable of cases.
4. Talk to the other parent about your kid so that you both know what is going on! Again, this should seem self-explanatory, yet in many cases one parent will hoard information about a child in a way that never occurred during the marriage. Johnny needs extra help at school? Tell the other parent. Susie is having difficulty with what is happening to the family? Tell the other parent. There are so many feelings, emotions and questions that a child may have both during and after a divorce. To exclude the other parent from what is happening is not only contrary to how things likely worked during the marriage, but…again…may have long-lasting impacts on the “client.”
5. Finally, remember that it took two parents to bring your children into this world and two parents to raise them to be the adults that you always thought they should and could be. Present a united front to the “client” – let him or her know that no matter what is happening between mommy and daddy that the “client”‘s best interests are always front and center, and that you and your spouse will be always be there for them. Sometimes the most basic reassurance goes a long way.
This is really common sense, yet it comes up so often in matters involving children that it only goes to show that common sense sometimes goes out the window in the midst of even the most friendly of divorce proceedings. Ultimately, while your marriage may be coming to an end, that does not mean that certain steps cannot be taken to protect the child as the “client” at the center of your case.