Telling a parent not to discuss a pending divorce, post-divorce, or child custody proceeding in the R.I. Family Court is easy advice to give. And like all easy advice it is freely given.
Adhering to that advice is more complicated.
It is easy and straightforward to tell yourself that you are going through a contentious court battle but you will leave the child out of it.
And then real life steps in. Things you hadn’t planned for are dropped into your lap.
For example, what if your child asks about it? What if she notices that things are different? That you and the other parent are different? And it is clear to you that she desperately needs to know that she is not at fault. That none of what is going on was caused by her, or could have been prevented by her had she done something differently.
You can’t deny that anything is changing. That would be an insult to her intelligence, and may well fray your bond with the child if she can’t trust you with serious issues.
But your attorney and the judge were crystal clear that you are not allowed to discuss the case with her, or anything peripherally attached to the case.
So, what do you do?
Here is what I advise. Tell your child some paraphrase of: “Your mom (or dad) and I are working this out for you. We are trying to figure out what is best for you and it can be stressful on us sometimes. But you have nothing at all to worry about. We love you very much, and though it is a bit of a process we are confident that we will both figure it out. But, while we are doing that, we have made a firm commitment not to put you in the middle and to protect you from this entire proceeding. So we will not be discussing it with you. Just know we are both looking out for you and we both want only the best for you.” Then get ice cream.
If that fails (it usually doesn’t) then blame the attorneys or the judge. DO NOT blame the other parent, or claim that he / she will not allow you to talk to the child about it because he or she does not believe they are mature enough to be involved. This invites conflict, confuses the child, and causes the child to carry more responsibility than is fair.
Allow your child to broach the topic first and respond in this way. It has many benefits to your case and to your relationships with your ex and your child.
By invoking a united front between you, the parents, you send a clear message early on to your child that she will not be able to use the conflict to circumvent discipline or consequence if she does something wrong or misbehaves.
She will not be able to pit one of you against the other. She should not anticipate asking one of you for something the other has denied, or to “compete” between the two of you for affection.
You remain her parents throughout and after this process. When it comes to raising a child you are both still very much on the same page.
And while the living situation may change, the finances may change, school may change, and new stepparents may enter her life she knows that you two are still a cohesive constant.
That is the most important thing.