As therapists, we witness firsthand the emotional toll divorce can take on families, especially when children are involved. To shed light on this delicate topic, therapist Dr. Faith Drew had the privilege of interviewing Kyle LeBlanc, a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Family Law and a partner at Hamilton Stephens Steele + Martin, PLLC, who practices family law in Charlotte and surrounding counties. 

In this article, Kyle shares valuable insights into the difficulties faced by divorcing families and the importance of prioritizing co-parenting from the perspective of the children involved. During this interview, we explore the challenges, crucial considerations, and best practices that can help divorcing parents navigate the divorce process while prioritizing the well-being of their children.

Please note this is not legal advice. We recommend contacting a family law attorney to discuss your situation for legal advice.

What do divorcing parents need to know about the best interests of their child(ren)? 

K: I’ve noticed parents have difficulty taking their personal needs, wants, satisfaction, or happiness out of the equation and putting their kids first. The “best interests of the children” are the “the polar star” which guides the Court. This means parents should consider their children’s best interests first and foremost when making decisions. When parents cannot do this, children often are put in the middle of their parents’ issues, which has a long-lasting and usually detrimental impact on the well-being of the child. 

Sadly, when custody becomes a fight, whether it be because one parent begins to feel financial strain or cannot handle the sudden change in their life, the child becomes part of the tug-of-war between the parents. That conflict can impact and color the rest of the divorce process. For example, dividing marital property shouldn’t have any emotional feelings attached, but because of the custody conflict, it becomes riddled with emotion and heightened tensions. 

People tend to bring out the worst in each other in divorce court proceedings. When that happens, parents rarely repair and become friendly with each other moving forward. Instead, they end up hating each other more. The child can see and feel that hostility. The kids take on feelings of worry and stress, or they struggle with decisions that may appear to favor one parent over another. Parents often forget that one day their children will have milestones at which they will both be in attendance. A damaged relationship extends beyond 18 years old.

F: I’ve worked with adult clients who have grown up in divorced homes where it was clear their parents hated each other. In our therapeutic work, these adult clients shared that they learned early on that the people they looked up to and loved hated one another. That hatred they witnessed from their parents was emotionally difficult for them and impacted their security around family and their view on future relationships. 

What is your best advice for divorcing families? 

K: A kid should be a kid. Parents need to put their hatred, disappointment, or hurt for one another aside and know they need to make decisions to not burden their children with the decisions or behaviors that occurred between them.

As previously mentioned, the child’s well-being is at stake, and divorce could be a never-ending battle or something the family chooses to navigate in a healthy way. Because of this, I often recommend my clients see a counselor jointly to plan how to tell their children they have decided to separate. This initial “talk” can set the groundwork for healthy communication and help build skills for healthy co-parenting. This talk is not for the separating or divorcing couple but rather for the well-being and long-term impact they will continue to have on their children.

F: I’m so glad to hear you advocate for co-parenting counseling. This type of therapeutic work enables separating or divorcing couples to focus on communicating with each other and their children. I’ve helped parents do this. It’s not easy, but it can be done in a way that honors the couple’s decision and prepares them for questions their children may have. It is extremely helpful when parents can put their issues aside and focus on understanding that their children will be adjusting to a new configuration of their family and there will be big feelings about this. If parents can show empathy to this family change and to their children specifically, it can be really good for their children. 

From your point of view, what can parents do to ensure a smooth divorce process?  

K: I encourage my clients to work with their ex as amicably as possible — it’s for the benefit of their child. The way I see it, the divorcing couple can either save their money for their child’s future by working together or spend their money on lawyers to determine how to live their future life. How the couple treats each other now, and the decisions they make when dissolving their marriage will impact their child for years and years to come. 

For instance, their child may one day get married. How do they want that special day to go for their child? Do they hope for a day that they can come together to support their child? Or do they want their child to worry about separating sides and having the room filled with tension and anger from various family members? 

What surprises your clients after divorcing? 

K: I often notice that divorcing parents base their decisions on emotions that have developed between one another. However, physical separation and independence can be a massive transition once reality sets in. For instance, it can feel jarring to pay bills for the first time in years or manage the household schedule. Initially, a parent may want full custody until they have it and realize they are on 100% of that time, possibly without help or support. A trial run can be beneficial to see what is realistic and feasible with each person’s schedule. 

What should divorcing couples keep in mind when communicating with each other?

K: I tell my separating or divorcing clients to communicate as if someone else is reading the messages or listening to the conversations. If you would not be embarrassed with your mother reading or listening to how you speak to the parent of your child, then you should be fine. 

Additionally, remember that you once loved this person and were friends. As such, respect should be the foundation for every conversation. For example, instead of saying, “Our kid has a soccer game at 10am Saturday. I hope you can come, but I doubt it. You never come because you’re a horrible parent and partner, for that matter!” Even if you have terrible feelings towards the other parent, you should say, “Our kid has a soccer game at 10am Saturday. Hope you can come – our kid would love to see you there.” 

Also, North Carolina is a one-party consent state for recording conversations. This means your spouse can record you without telling you (as long as both parties are in the state of North Carolina). If you are on the phone or in person, act and behave as if you are being recorded, and the recording will be played in Court. One-party consent often makes people reconsider how they speak with their ex.

What is parental alienation? 

K: Parental alienation is when one child begins to side with one of the parents. We usually see this start shortly after the parents separate because of behaviors, choices, or inappropriate discussions one parent may have about the other parent in the child’s presence. For instance, one parent talks badly about the other parent or sends negative non-verbal messages or feelings about the other parent in front of the child. 

Parental alienation can even be triggered when another family member, say a grandparent, talks badly about the ex-partner. When this happens, the child picks up on the subtle or overt messages and begins aligning with one parent.  

What is a parenting coordinator? 

K: A parenting coordinator helps parents improve communication and resolve disputes. Usually, the coordinator assists with minor scenarios or adjustments. For example, parents cannot agree on a meeting spot for drop off and pick up, and their court order is silent on the location. In that example, a parenting coordinator would assist by determining a location halfway between the parents’ residences. Sometimes removing lawyers from the scenario can help things go more smoothly and reduce costs.

What are some guidelines or best practices for divorcing families?

K: While no two families are the same, I put language in the Orders that encourage and promote the well-being of the child. For example, I tend to include provisions such as: 

  • Neither parent will talk negatively about the other parent.
  • If you hear anyone within earshot of the child talk negatively about the other parent, you will remove the child.
  • Neither will discuss with the children what transpires in the Court, the disputes between the parents, or anything that happens in the proceedings. 
  • Should your children inquire about parental disputes, both parents should tell their children, “We both love you, and these matters are between me and [other parent].” The children should not concern themselves with what is going on between their parents.
  • Don’t have your children be the messenger from one parent to the other.
  • Don’t encourage your children to keep secrets from the other parent.
  • Don’t question your children about the other parent’s household or the other parent’s friends.
  • Don’t read personal messages from the other parent to your children. Promote relationships based on safety and privacy.
  • Don’t encourage your children to challenge the authority of the other parent.  

I hope parents adhere to those common sense principles as it helps their kids be kids. Above all, you want your kids to know that their parents love them and are trying to move forward in the best way possible. 

I’m considering separation or divorce

After discussing this topic with Kyle, it was clear that co-parenting communication skills are essential to help the children adjust during and after their parents’ divorce. Seeking support from an individual therapist can be a transformative step towards personal growth and improved co-parenting dynamics. By working with a therapist, divorcing parents can gain valuable tools and insights to manage their emotions and behaviors and navigate the complex journey of engaging with their ex-spouse in a healthy way. Discernment counseling can be an excellent option to help you along the way.  

A therapist can provide a safe, non-judgmental space to explore and process difficult feelings. Many clients greatly value their therapist’s expert guidance on effective communication, conflict resolution, and boundary-setting. Through this therapeutic journey, parents can develop a deeper understanding of themselves, enhance their emotional well-being, and ultimately become better equipped to prioritize the needs of their children. Investing in your healing and growth will pave the way for a more cooperative and harmonious co-parenting relationship. You can foster an environment where your children can thrive. 

After reading this and you are considering separation or divorce, contact Kyle to see if you’d like his counsel or representation.

Our therapists can help with emotional support and co-parenting guidance if you’re going through a separation or divorce. Contact us to get started. Our practice serves residents of North Carolina and South Carolina.