11/24/2010 12:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Divorce -- When Parenting Dies

Two strangers meet, fall in love and marry. Both persons are never truly aware of the stranger within. Frequently during the process of divorce long hidden brutal character traits are revealed. Suppressed resentments, hurts, and fears are evidenced. They are met with avoidance, or confrontation. Past lovers, and partners now become combatants. Past intimacies are remembered with grief, sadness, and feelings of treachery. Distrust is a dominant feeling by both parents. Physical contact becomes repugnant, and only the most unavoidable communication takes place. Overwhelming sadness and despair are expressed with bitterness and hostility. Where are the children in this conflict -- this war zone? How and by whom are the children protected? What influence can the children have on the warring parties?

With divorce ending 50% of the marriages, we cannot ignore the immediate and long-term devastation that combative, self-serving parents often bring upon their children. In the light of the divorce epidemic I believe it is incumbent that all professionals involved in the process make parents aware of the combative and abusive behaviors that divorcing parents demonstrate to one another.

As a clinical and pediatric psychologist who has participated in many divorce proceedings, it is obvious that the declaration of the judge, "In the best interests of the child" holds little meaning for many parents. When divorce begins, all too often, parenting dies. Divorcing parents typically start the process firmly resolved to protect the needs of their child, but like many failed New Year's resolutions, the brutal realities of the divorce process leave children frightened and confused. Husband and wife become combatants, accompanied by attorneys, forensic accountants, and professional counselors all ready for battle. The results of such combat leave little regard for the best interests of the child. Caught in the crossfire, children resort to denial, lying, acting out, and engage in painful allegiances that cause even greater childhood distress and anguish. A typical example of the combat occurs when divorcing parents criticize their spouse in front of their children, despite the sensible and court mandate to avoid such behavior. Perhaps the parent simply needs to "let off steam," or to gain the child's allegiance, but what results is a confused, anxious and emotionally distraught child. An end to a marriage may be appropriate for a husband and wife, but parenting never ends.

Couples thinking of divorce, or in the process of divorce and those already divorced must be made aware of the numerous ways that they cause harm to their children, even while believing that the best interests of their child is being served.