THE BLOG
09/29/2016 05:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Can Brad and Angelina Protect Their Kids As They Prepare to Divorce?

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They may be a Hollywood power couple but to their six kids, Brad and Angelina are simply Mom and Dad. As the world watches the dissolution of "Brangelina," we are left scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong. More than that, we are curious how these parents, like so many divorcing couples, will handle custody, visitation, and just keeping life "normal" while rumors of infidelity, drug use, and anger issues swirl around them.

Speaking last week on behalf of Angelina Jolie-Pitt (41), attorney Robert Offer said her decision to file was "for the health of the family." Estranged husband, Brad Pitt (52), voiced a similar sentiment to People, saying, "I am very saddened by this, but what matters most now is the wellbeing of our kids."

According to initial court documents, Jolie has requested full physical/residential custody and joint legal custody of Maddox (15), Pax (12), Zahara (11), Shiloh (10), and twins, Knox and Vivienne (8). Brad, on the other hand, has expressed his commitment to pursuing joint custody, indicating that tensions may soon escalate.

If granted, joint legal custody would mean that Brad and Angelina must engage in discussions with each other that concern their children's health, welfare, education, and religious upbringing. If Angelina's request for full physical/residential custody is granted, Brad would only see the kids during specific visitation times and periods, and their parenting time would not be allocated equally between the two of them.

As a divorce lawyer and a child of divorce myself, I know firsthand how difficult and trying it can be for children to be shuffled from one house to another all of a sudden. If parents are not conscious of it, the continued upheaval can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for children used to having both of their parents living under one roof. Seemingly overnight, children's lives can be turned upside down. Depending on the age, children may feel as though they don't know where their toothbrush is or how their friends are going to find them.

So how can Brad and Angelina, as well as other parents about to embark on the divorce process, protect their children? Let me start out by saying that both Brad and Angelina have the right attitude, at least at the outset, each stating that their children's needs come first. What each of them may believe is in the best interests of the children likely differ, however, based on their disparate custody requests. What this means is that, at least temporarily, both parents must make compromises that will ensure their children's stability.

The best way for Brad and Angelina to accomplish this, as well as other parents starting the divorce process, is to create a unified front, beginning when they tell their children they are divorcing. The children need to know that both of their parents love them equally and that they did nothing wrong to cause their parents divorce. The children need to understand further that Mommy and Daddy are adults, that adults sometimes don't get along, and that it has nothing to do with them. Keep conflicts, heated discussions, and legal talk away from children, and be sure not to speak negatively about or point blame at the other parent.

Parents should also try to keep their children focused on themselves instead of on their parents' dissolving marriage during this confusing time. One effective strategy for doing so is to introduce children to new hobbies, or, even better, explore new hobbies with them, including language, art, or music. Enlisting the help of a reputable therapist can also help in this regard, as well as with other divorce-related issues that may come up.

I always tell my clients in advance that when it comes to divorce, their situation will likely get worse before it gets better, that they need to have a support group already in place for their children when it does, and that the support must begin at home. Because as every parent knows, home is where the heart is. The only difference being that now, instead of one home, there are two.

Vikki Ziegler is the star of Bravo TV's Untying the Knot, the founder and CEO of DivorceDating, Author of The Pre-Marital Planner: Your Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage, and a co-founder of and partner at Ziegler & Zemsky, LLC. To learn more about Vikki, visit www.vikkiziegler.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.