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Co-Parenting and Disparagement: who does it really hurt?

Co-parenting with an ex can be an extremely difficult task. Parents will have to deal with their co-parent for years after a messy divorce or a nasty breakup, well beyond their child’s 18th birthday (think graduations, weddings, and births of grandchildren).

Parenting Plans often contain language prohibiting parents from disparaging (bad-mouthing) each other, particularly in front of or to their children. What is the Court (or your attorney) trying to prevent when including this type of provision in a parenting plan? Studies show conflict between co-parents, whether they live apart or together, has a strong link to psychological problems among children exposed to this conflict. These psychological problems can linger into adulthood.

Disparaging your co-parent can backfire on you, both in your relationship in your child as well as in your custody case. A recent study out of The Family Institute at Northwestern University found that young adults and their siblings exposed to the denigration of a parent by the other parent felt less close than is typical to both parents. These sentiments included young adults trusting both parents less and increased feelings of isolation from them. The study found that a Father’s denigration of the Mother was related to more negative father-child relationships and more positive mother-child relationships. On the other hand, Mothers’ denigration of Fathers was related to more negative mother-child relationships but interestingly did not impact closeness in the father-child relationships.

Ultimately, and most importantly, the study found that, where one parent is speaking poorly of the other, usually both parents are engaging in this kind of bad behavior. The study found that this harms the relationship of the child with both of their parents, particularly the parent who most frequently behaves this way. The results of this study found that “when one parent puts down the other to his or her children, the overwhelming effect at the group level is for children to feel more distant from the parent who makes disparaging comments.”

While it may feel good to talk badly about the other parent, and why your sentiments may not be entirely unjustified, if you want a healthy relationship with your child, denigrating the other parent is more likely to harm your relationship than help it. While it is often difficult in the moment to control your emotions when you are going through a divorce or separation, try to remember that your child is suffering the most harm when you make negative comments about your children’s other parent.

Moreover, when there is a custody dispute, one of the factors that a court must consider when determining what kind of parenting schedule is appropriate is a parent’s ability to foster and support the child’s relationship with their other parent. If you speak poorly of the other parent, the court could determine that you should have less parenting time.

At GEM Family Law, our seasoned attorneys can help guide you through developing a parenting plan that best suits your children’s needs and that seeks to protect them from exposure to parental conflict. We can also discuss likely outcomes in court, if you and your co-parent cannot reach parenting time agreements. Call 303-317-3239 to schedule your free initial consultation today.

Studies Referenced:

Emery, R. E. (1982). Interparental conflict and the children of discord and divorce. Psychological Bulletin, 92(2), 310-330. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.92.2.310
Rowen, Jenna, Ph.D. (2015). Talking badly about your co-parent backfires: Young adults & siblings feel less close to parents who denigrate the other parent. The Family Institute at Northwestern University. https://www.family-institute.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/csi_rowan_talking_badly_about_your_coparent.pdf
Rowen, Jenna, Ph.D., Robert E. Emery (2018). Parental Denigration Boomerangs Versus Alienates: Parent-Child Closeness, Reciprocity, and Well-Being Using Multiple Informants. Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science. Volume 68, Issue 1 – February 2019, 119-134. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12324

Authored by: Anthony Zarsky, Esq., Attorney