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Advice from The Rhode Island Divorce Coach: Children Should Not Be Collateral Damage!

Divorce is Approaching . . . Can You Really Put Your Children First? 

In war, there is an acceptable rate of loss both for innocent citizens and for soldiers.    Regrettably, too many treat divorce proceedings in Rhode Island are spouses treating each other like they are at war with the enemy.  In my estimation there is no acceptable rate of loss in a divorce when it comes to children.  More particularly, what I see perhaps most commonly is that the children of the marriage become "collateral damage" because one or both spouses in the divorce are unable to exercise their intellect.  One or both spouses allow their emotions and their actions to spiral out of control, causing what may very well be irreparable damage to the children.  Though the examples are endless in this regard it takes only one example to demonstrate what I mean by this.  Rhode Island Divorce Example 1:  Bob and Gloria have two children, Derrick (age 6) and Tony (age 7).  Bob and Gloria have been married for 17 years.

Bob and Gloria have not been getting along for quite some time.  Bob tells Gloria that he wants a divorce and that he doesn't feel loved.  Gloria agrees because she doesn’t want to be married to Bob anymore but she wonders if counseling will help either of them. 

Bob tells her that he has already been going to counseling for the past 1 1/2 years and that he has thought this decision through for quite some time and that he is so unhappy that he thinks it best that they get a divorce.  Bob reassures Gloria that there isn’t “another woman” but that he simply doesn’t feel the same about their relationship anymore. 

Gloria is upset but says it is fine because she is not happy either.  She tells Bob to go ahead and file the Rhode Island Divorce and just let her know when the papers are coming.

 Bob gets a lawyer who files the divorce complaint.  Bob tells Gloria that the constable will be calling her to see when she would like to receive the divorce papers.  Gloria tells Bob that she will set up a time when their sons are at school so they are not upset and do not ask questions.  Gloria sets up a time that works for her and the constable brings the divorce papers as scheduled.

Bob thanks Gloria for being “adult about things and thinking of the children first.”  Bob thinks he and Gloria are in agreement about the divorce filing and protecting the children.  Gloria gets served on Tuesday by a very nice constable.  The constable is very kind, inconspicuous and courteous to her.  Gloria thanks the constable and then sits back on the couch for the afternoon and keeps staring at the divorce papers until it is time to pick up the children from school.  Gloria picks up the kids.  When Gloria returns home she sits back on the couch and continues staring at the divorce papers.  Derrick and Tony are playing on the living room floor right in front of the couch Gloria is sitting on when Bob gets home from work.  Bob slowly approaches Gloria who is still sitting on the couch. 

Suddenly Gloria jumps to her feet and waives the papers in his face.  The following dialogue takes place within a few feet of the kids.


 Gloria:   [Screaming and waiving the divorce papers in Bob’s face]

“You God Damn Bastard!  You're such a coward!  You served me in my own home.  The home where our children live and sleep and grew up.  What kind of insensitive son-of-a-bitch are you.  I can't believe you're doing this to me and the kids after 17 freakin' years taking care of you.  I gave you these kids for what..... for nothing... that's what . . . because now you're divorcing us.  Derreck and Tony start crying and ask mommy to stop. “

Unfortunately Gloria is now very upset and and keeps screaming with the boys sobbing uncontrollably on the floor.

“Well I’ve had enough of your abuse over the years.  You want the house?  You can keep it.  The boys and I don’t need you.  You don’t care about us and that’s just fine.  We’ll go live in a cardboard box somewhere under a bridge in Providence or something.  I don’t need you.  The kids don’t need you and I’m going to make sure you don’t ever see the boys again so you can’t hurt us like this ever again.”

Gloria throws the divorce papers in Bob’s face.

“Don’t think I don’t know about your little playmate either.  I know that you went and found someone else.  Well if you want a whole new family with her go ahead.  I don’t want to be around you anymore and neither do the boys.  That’s it Bob.” 

Gloria stomps into the bedroom and slams the door.  Bob stands there ondering what happened, and then turns to Derreck and Tony. 

Derreck and Tony are curled up on the living room floor crying.  He brings the boys onto the couch, sits with them and holds them.  Bob reassures the boys that he is their daddy and that everything is going to be okay. He tells them that mommy is tired and things will be fine and he is always going to be part of their life.  After an hour or so the boys calm down.


This is only one example of how children become collateral damage from one spouse’s inability to contain emotions override common sense and at least a general concern for the minor children. 

Regrettably I’ve heard scenarios like this one repeated annually (with variations of course) for more than a decade illustrating how both husbands and wives who ‘react’ in irrational and irresponsible manners rather than taking time to consider the consequences of their actions and provide a ‘response’ controlled by reason at an appropriate time and place when the children are not present and will not be injured by their statements or actions.

As a Rhode Island Divorce lawyer in courtroom practice, I made it a point to meet with as many children of divorcing clients as I can.  I do so privately to see how the children are doing and let the children describe to me what they see, hear and how they feel.  I make sure that my clients understand that if they allow me to speak with the children that I will not disclose the information to them afterwards so the child (or children) will feel safe that if they speak truthfully with me that their will not be consequences for their trust.

I let clients know that I speak with the children only so that I can get a different perspective on what has been going on so that I may more effectively represent the client in the divorce action without damaging the children.

It comes as no surprise that incidents like the one described above occur all too frequently.


These incidents are usually borne out of one spouse’s inability to control their own emotional reactions to a divorce proceeding.  While it can certainly be an emotionally painful experience for many people who may feel hurt or rejected, as the adults in the divorce situation, there is responsibility for parents to put aside or otherwise control their own emotional turmoil and keep it in check. 

For those that find this unrealistic in some circumstances (i.e. the husband is cheating with your best girlfriend, etc..) , I must respectfully disagree.

If you were adult enough to get married or adult enough to engage in an intimate relationship that resulted in children, then you should realize that you need to be adult enough to keep your emotions in check and protect the children you have brought into this world.

In my example, it appeared that Bob and Gloria were on the same page.  What neither Bob nor Gloria anticipated was the emotional affect the divorce and the divorce papers would have on Gloria once she actually received them.  I would have been difficult for Bob to do anything other than he did in this situation, except possibly to arrange for Derreck and Tony to stay with family members for a few days just to be on the safe side.  However, since Gloria seemed calm, that might have been taken by Gloria as a sign of distrust and made the situation worse. 

A friend and medical colleague of mine once made an observation that has stuck with me for years.  We have to have a license to practice law or medicine.  We have to have a license to get married.  We have to get a driver’s license to drive a car.  We have to get a passport to go between countries.  Yet of all the things that we are required to be trained for or get a license for, we don’t have to have any credentials, training, licensing, skills or even have an iota of common sense to become a parent.  This is sad when one considers that having children brings a new life into the world that may become tomorrow’s nobel prize winner or tomorrow’s newest serial killer . . . all of which may depend upon how well you do as a parent.

For those who are (or may be) entering a divorce or separation from someone that you are currently in (or have been in) a committed relationship with, I urge you to (1) strap your brain on, and (2) plug it in . . . before you act based upon your emotions when children are involved. 

Personally, I have seen enough children become collateral damage caused by avoidable adult stupidity simply because a parent chose to “react irrationally” and then just pawned it off on an emotional state and that they are entitled to their feelings. 

Your children don’t know what kind of "emotional state" you are in.  All your children know is that you are the stable parts of their lives that they need to be able to rely upon.  If you appear to them to be unstable by reacting irrationally, you can bring a child’s entire world to a crumbling halt, causing them to have trust, commitment, fear, anger, hostility or relationship issues for life.

If you’ve brought a life into this world, take responsibility for your actions.  Take responsibility for your child or children, financially, emotionally, physically and mentally. If you make a mistake along the way, try to make amends for it.  Do whatever you can do to prevent damage especially to young children.

Remember, having children isn’t a childhood game where you get a “do – over”.  You may only get one shot.  If you are going to get upset, angry, or throw a tantrum because you aren’t strong enough to keep your emotions “in check”, then go somewhere else and do it,  or have the children stay with someone until you can get a handle on your emotions.

You have a responsibility to the children you brought into this world.  Children do not need to become collateral damage of a parent’s inability to keep control of their emotions.

Authored By:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law

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