Your child has just returned home from a visit with your ex-spouse. When you ask how the visit went, your child confides that “We couldn’t do anything because (daddy/mommy) said you took all the money.” Devastated, you wonder what to say other than to scream “That’s not true!” Such a response, while accurate, just brings the child into the parental conflict. In addition, your denial is not likely to bring positive results because the child then sees both parents as potentially being untruthful.  

While in an ideal world it would be nice if you could pick up the telephone and talk to your ex-spouse about not making such comments, that option is not always realistic. Here are 5 steps you can take that may minimize the negative comments made by the other parent. 

1.  Depending on the age of your child, talk to the child about how emotional the situation is for everyone. While taking the proverbial high road is often difficult, explain how when people feel bad they sometimes say things that they do not necessarily mean.  

2. Give your child words of empowerment so they can learn to express how they are feeling to the other parent. Let them know it is ok for the child to tell the other parent “I don’t like it when you tell me things about mommy/daddy. It makes me feel bad.”   

3.  Role model the behavior you want from the other parent. While tempting to provide a laundry list of faults of the other parent, avoid derogatory comments that will just contribute to the child’s anxiety and stress. Your child will appreciate you not putting them in the middle of the situation or talking negatively about the other parent.  Consider instead telling the child that  these are adult issues that the child should not have to worry about, and mommy/daddy is not going to bring the child into the matter by defending or explaining more. Let them know that there often are two sides to a story but it is not something they should worry about.   

4.  Consider whether it is desirable for your child to talk to a counselor. Giving your child a safe place to express his or her feelings takes you out of the middle and also helps the child develop the resiliency that is needed in such situations. If you have joint legal decision-making, you will need to seek the permission of the other parent to permit the counseling. However, this also gives you the opportunity to discuss with the other parent the negative comments that have been made and how the comments impact the child. 

5. When all else fails consider the legal options that exist. Sometimes the negative comments made by the other parent are done to align the child with one parent. These attempts can start to impact your relationship with your child. You may also find that the child’s behavior with you starts to mimic some of the comments that the child has heard from the other parent. In these cases it is important to consult with an attorney to see what options may be available. For example, a therapeutic option such as family counseling or reunification therapy may be necessary. In more serious case, it may be necessary for a court to readjust the parenting time schedule so the bonds you have with your child continue to grow without the temporary influence from the other parent.


About the Author:
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a member of the State Bar’s Family Law Practice and Procedure Committee and is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. Ms. Pontrelli obtained her life coaching certificate through the Professional Coaching Institute in 2005. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including the recently published Divorce in Arizona, She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country on time management and balancing work and personal life. Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081 and you may review her bio here.