We’ve heard it many times: “My ex is badmouthing me to the kids. Is there anything I can do?”
You and your spouse are divorcing, and it’s not a friendly divorce. There is anger and hurt feelings on both sides, but you are trying to minimize the impact on your kids. One day, your very young daughter comes home from visiting with your ex and repeats a disparaging remark. You are shocked.
Unfortunately, this scenario happens too often. Angry spouses make negative comments, blame, lie about, or badmouth each other. Doing so puts the children in the middle of parental conflict. This isn’t fair to the children, and the courts look upon it negatively. In fact, it is such a serious problem that most Pennsylvania custody agreements contain clauses prohibiting parents from making negative remarks about each other to the children.
If your ex is telling lies about you, you will want to take steps to protect your children. Your first step is to look at your own behavior.
- Make sure you set a good example. You can’t complain about your ex’s lies and put downs if you are doing the same thing. Never bad-mouth your ex in front of the kids.
- If your ex is making you angry, take a time out and cool off. Walk away and take some deep breaths. Resume the conversation after you cool down.
Children in the middle of parental conflict often feel hurt, angry and confused. Talk to your children about their feelings. Encourage them to share those feelings with the other parent or another trusted adult.
How to Help Your Children Cope With Badmouthing
If your ex:
- Insults you in front of the children. Let your children know that you are sorry that they heard those negative remarks. Let them explain how they feel when this happens. Encourage them to share their feelings with your ex.
- Tells lies about you to the kids. Don’t retaliate with negative remarks or lies about your ex. Empathize with your children’s feelings and tell them the truth about the situation.
- Tells lies about you and your willingness to spend time with your children. Calm down, so you won’t show anger in front of the kids. Don’t call your ex a liar. Tell the child you are sorry that they didn’t know that you wanted to spend time together. Let them know that you miss them. Brainstorm ways to communicate when you must be apart.
- Blames you for his or her current circumstances. Resist playing the blame game. Let your children know that when people are hurt or angry they may say things that they don’t mean. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings.
If your spouse continues to make disparaging remarks, you may want to take action. Document the remarks and ask your lawyer about filing a contempt petition. In Pennsylvania, constant putdowns and lies may be grounds for a change in custody. For more information, call Petrelli Previtera at 215-523-6900.