Counselor Anita Trubitt uses dollhouses to represent the homes of mothers and the fathers when evaluating a child's situation in custody cases.

trapped in the middle

In the midst of divorce, parents too
often forget the pain their children face

» Do's and don'ts of divorce
» Ease financial distress of divorce

For parents, divorce is an ending. A failed marriage is something they want to walk away from and forget. Unfortunately, for children, divorce actually represents a beginning. It means entering a new phase of life and relationships that they don't understand and for which they are unprepared.

Parents don't realize a good divorce is as much work as a good marriage, according to experts, and that means taking extra steps to ensure the kids are all right.

Most kids wish that their parents would get back together, said Anita Trubitt, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, and that usually will not happen. Considering all of the adjustments kids need to make, it takes about three years for a family to become stable following a divorce, she said.

Unfortunately, some moms and dads don't stop fighting after a divorce, and often their battles involve custody issues. As a result, children often blame themselves and wish the fighting would stop.

"What really damages children of divorce is the ongoing parental fighting," Trubitt said. It's especially harmful when kids are put in the middle long after the divorce has been finalized. Children need to hear "it's not their fault" many times, she said.

Children also need to know that they have the right to love both parents, she said. "A healthy child recognizes that he has a strong relationship with both parents, and loves to do things with both of them."

Counselor Anita Trubitt uses a sandbox and toys as tools to determine a child's feelings. In this case, a 14-year-old saw himself stuck in the middle, as a bridge connecting his father and mother.

Parents should seek help, if necessary, to part on good terms. This can alleviate a lot of stress, Trubitt said, especially for kids under age 7, who cannot hold two opposing views at one time. When with the mother, the child will believe her; when with the father, the child will believe him.

"If one parent is attacking the other parent, it's like attacking half of the child. This can eventually lead to the isolation of one parent," Trubitt explained.

Avoid asking the toxic question of which parent the child would prefer to live with. "When I let the children know that they won't be asked this question, you can see them breathe a deep sigh of relief," Trubitt said.

The good news is, kids are resilient. They can survive a divorce just fine, as long as they know that both parents love them, said Charlene Anaya, coordinator of Kids First.

Programs like Kids First are forcing parents to deal with the issue of their children. Parents of children younger than 18 must attend the program at Family Court when filing for divorce. After attending the Kids First workshop, most parents claim they never thought about divorce from their children's point of view, said Anaya.

"We are not trying to get parents to change their minds about divorce," Anaya said. Instead, 65 volunteers, including attorneys, school teachers and counselors, run the program to reduce the fear of divorce, which parents often don't explain to their children. Separation causes great anxiety, leaving children afraid and unsure because they don't know what will happen, Anaya said.

"We are trying to teach self-coping skills," said Anaya. Kids need to be encouraged to develop a support system "so they have someone to talk to when they are feeling sad."

The children are even allowed to put on a robe and sit in the judge's chair. Older children participate in a mock trial. "They play out a scenario that is likely to happen when their parents are in the courtroom," said Trubitt, who uses play-therapy techniques when she is called in to evaluate child custody situations to determine the best parenting plan.

While she said it is obvious when parents coach their children on what to say prior to a session, "Play doesn't lie," she said. "It's a child's natural language."

Using two dollhouses, families will create one home to represent mom's house and another to represent dad's. In the course of playing with the houses, it is often easy to see which parent the child wants to spend more time with.

Trubitt also examines drawings and other artwork that often present accurate accounts of a child's feelings, she said.

One 14-year-old built a bridge with two figures on the ends and one in the middle. "A bridge is a powerful connecting symbol," she said. The figures on the outside represented his mother and father. He was the one stuck in the middle.

Avoiding a custody battle can save both parents and children a lot of grief, said divorce attorney Jackie Kong. These days, negotiation is increasing in popularity as a way of avoiding the courtroom and its associated costs. Cases can get messy in the courts, and some parents end up spending all their children's college education money on a lawsuit, she said.

"Some people need their day in court. Others do what is best for the kids."

A parent who is not angry would be able to talk to the other parent and try to resolve issues. An angry parent uses the court system, Trubitt said.

If parents can negotiate the issues, they can save a fortune in attorney fees, plus save their children from unnecessary pain and suffering, Kong said.


Do’s and don’ts
of divorce

Make a real commitment to help your children through the difficult process of divorce. For many children, the loss of family represents a loss of security.

Learn about the divorce process and how it affects your kids.

Get professional help if you need to from counselors, clergy, attorneys or mental health professionals.

Listen to your children. Let them express their feelings freely, and spend time with them. Let them feel their hurt, and let them say whatever they want. Don't judge them or try to talk them out of their feelings.

Support your child's relationship with your spouse. Children literally view themselves as half mom and half dad. When children hear negative remarks about one of their parents, they internalize it. They consider it an attack against themselves.

Be a good role model for your children. Their memory of how you handle the divorce may remain with them forever, as a part of their family history and legacy.

Understand that children can be hurt, even if it is not intentional.

Don't take your personal battles with your spouse to your kids.

Don't trap your children in the middle. Don't ask them to take sides or to become messengers or spies.

Source: "Kids First" parent handbook


Simple steps can ease
financial distress of divorce


A seminar and support group for people experiencing divorce or separation:

Meetings: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays at the First Presbyterian Church at 1822 Keeaumoku St.

"Kids Hope": A class for children offered simultaneously

Call: 532-1111

When a marriage ends, an individual may face a long and painful transition toward independence. Divorce can be one of the most traumatic experiences of a lifetime. Financial issues add to the emotional stress.

William Anthes, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, believes that taking positive, calculated moves can make all the difference in the degree of financial stability an individual will have in the future.

"The circumstances are different for each individual," he said, "but when you unexpectedly lose a partner, you will probably face a predictable set of reactions."

Some people may feel somewhat out of control and find it difficult to concentrate, he added.

"Feelings of resentment or anger are common, and many people in the midst of a separation or divorce find it difficult to face the task of separating their finances from those of their estranged spouse."

He offers the following tips:

>> Estimate how much money you will need for the next six to 12 months, and set that amount aside as you adjust to the new situation.

>> Gather and organize financial documents.

>> Get a checking account and credit card in your own name.

>> Make sure to have a support group of friends, family members and advisers to help you get through the initial phase of adjustment.

>> Hire a divorce lawyer or mediator who specializes in matrimonial law.

>> Write to banks and other custodians of your joint accounts to prevent a soon-to-be ex-spouse from moving money. State that no funds can be removed without the approval of both spouses.

>> Study both the law and your own finances. Learning about laws on alimony, child support and division of property will help determine how to best divide joint accounts and possessions.

>> When discussing final settlement agreements, view money as a survival issue.

The National Endowment for Financial Education, established to help Americans take control of their finances, has published a booklet, "Suddenly Single," that includes details on how to rebuild your financial life after divorce.

Download the booklet online at For copies via mail, write the National Endowment for Financial Education, 5299 DTC Blvd., Suite 1300, Greenwood Village, CO 80111.

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