From the Sections, 0220 WYBJ, Vol. 43 No. 1. 14

AuthorFar rah L. Spencer, Chair Children & Family Law Section
PositionVol. 43 1 Pg. 14

From the Sections

Vol. 43 No. 1 Pg. 14

Wyoming Bar Journal

February, 2020

Child Custody: The Role Attorneys Play

Far rah L. Spencer, Chair Children & Family Law Section

Practicing family law can be challenging and rewarding. In custody cases, the attorney representing a parent should consider not only the outcome that the client wants, but the consequences the desired outcome and process to achieve that outcome has on the children involved. To provide effective representation, the attorney should advise the client on these matters, which often includes the effect conflict has on children and ways to reduce conflict during and after the custody proceeding.[1]

Effect of High Conflict on the Family

Studies show that high conflict during and after a custody proceeding negatively affects a child's mental health.[2] Typically, attorneys address parental conflict by simply telling parents that conflict is bad for children and parents should not engage in it. However, this general advice is usually ineffective in motivating behavioral change.

The intensity and type of conflict behavior most consistently associated with negative outcomes involve a parent using the child to express the parent's anger and disputes. Behaviors to watch for include: asking a child to carry hostile messages to the other parent, asking intrusive questions about the other parent, creating a need in the child to hide information or conceal positive feelings about the other parent, and expressing contempt toward the other parent. These behaviors increase the likelihood that a child will experience depression, anxiety, more aggression in younger children, problems with peers, and lower self-esteem, both during and after the custody proceeding.[3] Rather than admonishing parents to "stop" conflict, recognizing and discussing specific parent behaviors and their effects on a child can motivate a parent to take specific actions to protect the child.[4]

Quality parenting by either parent (warmth, availability, appropriate discipline and monitoring) or a good relationship with a caregiver provides a protective buffer against the effects of high conflict. However, a parent's mental and emotional health may also be affected by a high conflict proceeding and the circumstances that created the proceeding. The parent often is stressed emotionally and financially. Thus, the parent may be unable to provide quality parenting when the child needs it most.

The Role of...

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