- Susan Moss is an attorney in New York City.
- She occasionally serves as an attorney for children during contentious divorces.
- This is Moss’ story, as told to Kelly Burch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Susan Moss. It has been edited for length and clarity.
As an attorney who works in family and matrimonial law, I mostly work with adults. But occasionally, I’m appointed by a judge to serve as an attorney for children. That means I’m there solely to represent the kids who are caught in the middle of their parents’ battle.
I’ve had a front-row seat to the end of many marriages. Here’s what I think any parent going through a divorce should know.
The kids’ voices matter
Oftentimes when adults discuss divorce settlements, they focus on what the parents want. But the kids are the ones who have to shuffle back and forth between two houses. So listen to their opinions, too.
Maybe your teenager is working hard to get straight A’s and switching homes midweek disrupts their study routine. Maybe your middle schooler doesn’t want to go to mom’s town for the summer when all her friends will be where dad lives.
These concerns might seem trivial to adults, and kids will sometimes have absurd demands. But if your child expresses a logical, mature opinion, you owe it to them to at least consider it.
Children might be telling you different things
Oftentimes, kids are people pleasers, especially with 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 home. They’re not lying — they’re telling their truth at that moment.
So don’t be surprised if your child is telling you one thing, your ex-spouse another, and the attorney another altogether. I’ve learned to ask questions in at least three ways in different settings to get to the bottom of how a child really feels.
You don’t need a plan that will work forever
As kids grow and their needs change, your custody arrangements will have to be adjusted. I always tell my clients it’s important to go with the flow.
Reevaluate your arrangement after there’s been a major change for you, your ex-spouse, or your child. At the very least, the beginning of middle school or high school offers an important period for adjustment.
Don’t bad-mouth your spouse
Divorces bring up a lot of emotions, including frustration and anger. And since your child is involved, you might be tempted to vent to them, especially if they’re older. But save the “you’ll never believe what she did” conversations for your friends.
Your coparent is usually the only mother or father your child will have. They may not be a perfect parent, but your child doesn’t need to know all the ways they’ve failed. Instead, respect the important role this person has in your child’s life.
Keep a united front
Parents always ask me what the best custody schedule is for the children. There’s one answer: It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that the parents are on the same page. If the parents are fighting, they can have any type of 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 fare much better.
If you get everything you want, something went wrong
In very contentious divorces, parents often have to do education on coparenting. And nine times out of 10, when I ask my clients about it, they reply, “I really hope my spouse saw what I did.”
But there’s the thing: These nasty divorces are hardly ever 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 needs to be a happy compromise in the middle. If you get 100% of what you want, it’s often not in the best interest of the child.