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Kids’ Rules For Divorce


When the topic of divorce comes up, one of the most frequently heard comments is that moms and dads need to be guided by ‘what is best for the kids.’  Parents, friends and family, divorce lawyers and judges all agree that the idea of ‘what is best for the kids’ should be the most important attitude motivating parents’ behavior.  Yet most of us have observed divorcing or divorced moms and dads behaving in ways that strongly suggest they have forgotten this is the most important rule.

The genuinely remarkable point, however, is this:  the kids of divorcing or divorced parents have noticed this damaging behavior, too.

A recent blog post on the Huffington Post website provided clear evidence that kids notice their parents behaving badly during or after divorce.  Unsurprisingly, it turns out the kids also want such behavior to stop, and have very sensible ideas of the types of rules divorced parents should follow.

Pre-teens created the “rules” while participating in an 8-week program for children of changing families, after being asked to create a set of rules they wished their parents would follow.  The kids began by making their own set of rules, individually, and then progressed to creating a group list with their classmates.  Finally, that class-wide list was presented to the parents involved in the same program.

One of the program’s facilitators blogged about the ten rules most commonly developed by kids over a five-year period, encompassing 15 total classes.   A review of the entire list reveals rules that are both astonishingly and predictably simple – – they are, in many ways, common sense rules.  But the fact that 15 separate groups of kids over 5 years kept coming up with the same rules is compelling testament to the fact moms and dads keep behaving in ways that go against the rules.

The full blog post is available at, but the following rules seemed particularly suited for mentioning here:

“Don’t Say Bad Things About My Other Parent”

This rule seems to be the most pervasive, in that it has been developed every time the kids’ program was conducted.  Kids simply want their parents to refrain from saying bad things about a person they love.  It does not matter to the kids if the statements are ‘true’ because there is nothing constructive to be gained by continually bad-mouthing the other parent.

“Keep Us Out of Adult Stuff”

Kids do not need to hear about the ‘adult stuff’ that is perceived to have contributed to or led to a divorce, nor about similar issues that may cause the need for ongoing court proceedings.  As the blogger noted, there is no “educational or emotional value” in telling a kid that an unfaithful parent prompted a separation or divorce, nor that a parent behind on child support is the reason a kid has to go without something.


“Learn To Get Along For Big Events”

As kids celebrate important events and milestones in life, they want and deserve to have both parents there.  Birthdays and holidays happen every year, of course, and can be the subject of separate celebrations.  But whether it is as simple as a tournament baseball game or a dance recital, or as momentous as a graduation or wedding, some events cannot be repeated and moms and dads can and should find a way to both attend.  Moms and dads should always make sure the other parent knows about these events, and have the opportunity to attend.    Parents subject to a Domestic Violence Order should be careful to adhere to its terms, but with planning it should be possible for both parents to attend most events without violating a DVO.

“Don’t Make Me Choose Sides”

Kids believe this is one of the worst things divorcing or divorced parents could ever make them do.  They are correct.  Kids have the right to love and adore both parents, and to give and receive strong emotional support from both parents.  A kid’s right to these things cannot end just because the parents themselves may have lost such feelings for one another.

“Don’t Make Me A Messenger Or Put Me In The Middle”

Simply put, moms and dads need to find a way to communicate that does not require them to pass messages through the kids.  Especially when kids already have to confront splitting time between two parents they love, that time should not be obstructed by forcing him or her into an unwanted conversation.  In this digital age, there are plenty of ways to convey information without the need for direct physical contact.  Moms and dads should assure information is shared back and forth in a way that lets the kids stay focused on their own time with their parents, not on doing the work of the parents.

“Don’t Ask Me To Spy”

On a related note, it is utterly unacceptable for a mom or dad to ask a kid to spy on the other parent.  Kids know it is wrong, yet parents too often use them in an attempt to gain information during co-parenting time.  A kid should never be given such a task ahead of time, and should not be quizzed for information when he or she returns home.  There is a good chance a kid will voluntarily bring up things that concern them, but when that happens the parent’s role is to listen to and address the concerns, not to become an interrogator.

Divorce is stressful enough for kids under the best of circumstances.  Moms and dads must make a conscious effort to try and reduce that stress level wherever possible.  Faithfully following these simple rules – – so simple they were developed by pre-teens – – is a strong start.



This article presents only general information. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Reading this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This article originally appeared in the April 2013 edition of SOKY Happenings.

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