Often, during family litigation, parents think about their rights, but often forget that their kids have rights as well. For example, some parents put their kids in the middle of their contentious war. Or they share adult issues or details about the litigation with their kids. Or they trash talk their co-parent to the children, and may even say they love them more than their ex does. All of this is unacceptable.
A good family law attorney will keep the kids’ well-being top of mind during conversations they have with a parent (since we all know some parents can make family law matters that much worse by using kids as a bargaining chip)
In New Jersey, the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts adopted a set of guidelines, that while not mandated by law, attorneys and judges often include in agreements and court orders.
The guidelines, generally called the New Jersey Children’s Bill of Rights, outlines children’s rights and what they should be able to expect from their parents when the parents’ relationship ends. A Child’s Bill of Rights is often incorporated into divorce and post-judgment agreements.
Here’s the Child’s Bill of Rights:
- The right not to be asked to “choose sides” between their parents
- The right not to be told the details of a bitter, nasty divorce
- The right not to be told “bad things” about the other parent’s personality or character
- The right to privacy when talking to either parent on the telephone
- The right not to be cross-examined by one parent after visiting or talking to the other
- The right not to be asked to be a messenger from one parent to the other
- The right not to be asked by one parent to tell the other parent untruths
- The right not to be used as a confidant regarding the divorce proceedings by one parent or the other
- The right to express feelings, whatever those feelings may be
- The right not to express certain feelings
- The right to be protected from parental warfare
- The right not to be made guilty for loving both parents
Here are some practical applications of a Child’s Bill of Rights:
- Your child should never be put into a position to take the side of either parent. (Avoid arguing in front of them. Avoid saying negative things about your co-parent in front of your child. Avoid arguing about your litigation or child support negotiations within earshot.) Your children should be in a neutral spot to love both parents equally.
- Children should be able to communicate with both parents freely, such as being able to use the telephone to make and receive calls from the other parent and their relatives. Your child should be able to have these conversations in private, without interference. Your child should also be able to send and receive emails, greeting cards and letters. In addition, your child shouldn’t be asked questions by one parent about the other – or be expected to be a messenger between the two.
- Your child should have adequate visitation with both parents, and should never be denied those visits because of a disagreement between you and your ex.
- As co-parents, avoid undermining your child’s relationship with the other parent, from encouraging them to be disobedient or to “rearranging facts” to exaggerate differences between the parents. Avoid making moral judgments about the other parent’s lifestyle, friends or relatives, residence or career. Don’t ever try to gain your child as an ally against your ex, or convince your child that you love them more than your ex.
- Never put your children in the position of a mini-adult with grownup responsibilities, such as acting the role of your therapist or sounding board to benefit you.
- Children should expect to receive emotional support from you and your co-parent during and after the divorce or separation. If you’re unable to provide that support, enlist the help of a trusted third party like a therapist, for your child, you, or the family unit.
- Ensure consistent parenting, such as having similar rules and routines at each household. Allow your child to display photos of the other parent, as well as use items given to them by your ex. Keep open communications with your co-parent to ensure a seamless-as-possible transition between homes for your child.
- Your children should expect your joint support as they adjust to their new family situation. Allow them to express their emotions, and let them know you’re there to listen and offer them the help they need.
- You never want your children to get lost in the shuffle of divorce, and a Children’s Bill of Rights is a key way to ensure you and your co-parent keep your kids top of mind.
If you need assistance with a family law matter such as incorporating or enforcing a Child’s Bill of Rights, our attorneys at Petrelli Previtera, LLC can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.
Author Kristin M. Lis
Kristin is the Senior Associate at Petrelli Previtera’s Atlantic County office location in Linwood, NJ. She has been exclusively practicing family law for nearly a decade. She represents clients in a variety of legal matters including divorce, alimony, custody, and other unique issues such as relocation, and adoption.