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Family Court

by Christine Reinicker

Divorce is tough on parents—but even more difficult on children. Here’s how to protect your kids during this life-changing event.

Divorce is an emotionally draining process. When children are involved, there’s even more cause for concern—given that kids exposed to messy divorce proceedings have been found to exhibit longstanding emotional effects. But, there are ways to work together to keep children out of the crossfire.

“At any age, it can overwhelm the kids, it can dominate their life. It can interfere with their academics and their sports,” says Christopher Musulin, of Musulin Law Firm in Mount Holly. “The best advice for them is, once everyone realizes [a divorce is] going to happen, they should seek some professional help for their kids.” He also suggests that each parent educate himself or herself, so they can address any concerns their children may have about the process.

First and most important is considering children’s emotions. It’s vital for parents to reassure children that they are not at fault, says Howard Mendelson of Davis & Mendelson in Voorhees. “Encourage them to understand that it is nothing they have done, and that both parents love them unconditionally,” Mendelson says.

And, remember that children at different ages will process their parents’ divorce differently. “It’s harder on the middle school-age kids, because they don’t want to choose sides,” he adds. “They’re in that changing adolescent age.”

But while simple considerations can make a big difference—for example, saving any bickering for times when children are not around—there are also legal factors to consider, namely The Children’s Bill of Rights.

“The Children’s Bill of Rights is utilized by many family courts for the purpose of setting down a series of rules that the litigants are supposed to follow to protect their children and to insulate their children from the divorce process,” says Richard Klein of Becker Meisel in Cherry Hill. Among other factors, it includes the child’s right to communicate freely with both parents, the right not to have to choose sides, and the right to be treated as a person rather than as a possession. The Children’s Bill of Rights also mandates that the child be as little involved as possible in divorce proceedings; if a parent violates that tenet, the court may decide to take serious action against him or her, Klein notes.

When custody is in question, the optimal choice is mediation rather than litigation, Musulin says. “It is much more private, less expensive and can be a lot less emotionally impactful” on children, he notes.

“When making such decisions, the focus should be on the child’s welfare,” says Judith S. Charny, of Charny, Charny & Karpousis in Mount Laurel. “The paramount concern of the law is a child’s best interest,” she says. “Children may become involved when custody is at issue and the child/children are at an age when their opinion may be a factor. However, the overwhelming goal is for children to be kept outside of the divorce process.”

Even when custody is at stake and litigation is necessary, children may be able to avoid appearing in court. “A child does not get involved at all unless it’s a legitimate custody dispute. In these circumstances the judge may want to interview a child. It will not be in the courtroom, not open, and without lawyers. However, more and more judges are preferring to leave that to the psychological and custody experts who get involved in these situations,” says Klein.

Actions outside the courtroom matter as well, on an ongoing basis. “Kids needs to be reassured by both parents by showing up at school events and extracurricular activities,” Klein says. Parents can ease the transition by proving to the children that they’re not being abandoned.

Charny concludes that parents—even after being separated—must demonstrate together that they are still there for the child. “Parents,” she says, “should reinforce that the child is loved by both of them and they are not being ‘divorced’ by either parent.”

Legal Eagles
Local attorneys with divorce expertise

Becker Meisel, LLC
Richard C. Klein, Esquire, is a nationally recognized family law attorney who handles a full range of legal services for individuals facing divorce or separation and custody. He and his team aggressively pursue all means, including negotiation and litigation. Visit their website for more information.
Cherry Hill | (856) 779-0700
BeckerMeisel.com | RichardCKleinLaw.com

Charny, Charny & Karpousis, P.A.
Led by Judith S. Charny, the Divorce and Family Law Group of Charny, Charny & Karpousis, P.A,. is dedicated to providing high quality legal services. This team of eight women attorneys includes highly recognized leaders in the field with 60-plus years of experience and an unparalleled compassion for clients.
Mount Laurel | (856) 505-1700
CharnyLaw.com

Davis & Mendelson, L.L.C.
Mediation provides separating/divorcing parties with a cost-effective and child-centered way to resolve their differences. The parties focus on their commonality of interests and needs, rather than ego-driven positions; they resolve issues in a manner that fosters cooperation and compassion for the benefit of their children.
Voorhees | (856) 627-0100
CamdenCountyMediation.com

Domers and Bonamassa, PC
Divorce, family law, child custody and mediation. Making families matter for over 35 years.
Marlton | (856) 596-2888
DomersBonamassa.com

Michael J. Stein, Attorney-At-Law
A full-service divorce and family law firm serving clients throughout Southern New Jersey. The firm’s experience, personal attention and listening skills combine to meet your legal needs and the needs of your children.
Moorestown | (856) 642-0400
SouthJerseyDivorceLaw.com

Musulin Law Firm, LLC
Christopher Musulin, Esquire, is a Divorce and Family Law Attorney, as well as a Divorce Mediator and Arbitrator. Mr. Musulin serves clients throughout South Jersey and will apprise you of your rights. Call today to schedule a consultation or visit his website for more information.
Mount Holly | (609) 267-0070
MusulinFamilyLaw.com

The Law Office of Stephen J. Wenger
A U.S. Navy veteran who primarily handles military and veterans’ law, Mr. Wenger can provide assistance if you have been denied your benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Burlington | (609) 387-3649
SteveWengerLaw.com

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (July, 2011).
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