At the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth, we often encourage clients to speak with a family therapist during divorce—especially when children are involved. Not sure if family counseling is right for you? We asked Tarrant County licensed family therapist Gina Galloway, Ph.D. to shed light on the many ways counselors can help families before, during and after divorce.
How can a family therapist help me during divorce?
1. Explain how to break the news to children about divorce
Every child is unique, and some kids cope with divorce better than others. Children also process information differently based on age and developmental stage. “A counselor can help you prepare and set the stage for ‘the talk’ based on your child’s age, stage of development and emotional needs,” Dr. Galloway says.
Take a deeper dive into this topic in our recent post—Break the news carefully: How to tell your kids you’re getting divorced.
2. Teach children coping skills they need during divorce
Divorce can be very traumatic for children. During counseling sessions, the family therapist can listen to the child’s concerns, gently probe to uncover underlying issues and teach the child how to cope when they’re scared, anxious or dealing with an absent or unfit parent. Kids often get put in the middle during divorce, and a counselor can help children navigate those rocky waters.
3. Educate parents on how to help kids overcome challenges caused by divorce
Parents often don’t understand what their children are going through during divorce. What should a parent do or say when their child is struggling? Along with general best practices—encouraging kids to talk, listening, acknowledging concerns and being empathetic—a family counselor can provide insight on how to help the child manage their unique challenges.
For example, it can be very painful for a child when a parent doesn’t follow through on promises or show up when they’re supposed to.
In these situations Dr. Galloway recommends, “Instead of badmouthing the other parent, it’s more beneficial to empathize with the child, acknowledge how they feel and try to help them. You don’t want to brush things away because that can be really harmful.
“The conversation could go something like this: ‘I’m sorry that you’re sad. I know that hurts. Do you want to make a card for mom as a way to connect with her, since she can’t be here this weekend?’ You cannot fix or control the other parent’s relationship with your kiddo. All you can do is be there for them.”
4. Guide parents on what information IS and is NOT OK to share with kids.
In addition to refraining from saying negative things about the other parent, parents should avoid giving children information they don’t need or are unable to process. A family therapist can explain what information is developmentally appropriate to share with your child and what topics to avoid.
According to Dr. Galloway, one of the hardest things for kids to process is when a parent tells them there has been infidelity within the marriage.
As she explains, “It’s difficult enough for kids to learn their family is breaking up, but to find out there’s this other person in the picture can be tough. That information can negatively affect the parent-child relationship, and if that parent does end up marrying the other person, it could affect the stepparent-child relationship, too. Infidelity is one of many things that is not appropriate to discuss with children. If your ex tells your child about you cheating, a counselor can explain how to address the topic with your child.”
5. Help parents avoid mistakes that could compromise custody and visitation
As we often say, emotions run high during divorce, which can spur some parents to say and do irrational and even despicable things. Many refuse to co-parent civilly, simply because they want to make the other parent suffer.
If you’re on the receiving end of this ire it’s important to be careful how you react. What both your ex and YOU say and do could affect the outcome of your child custody dispute. A counselor can help guide you on how to keep your cool and what you should and should not say, so you don’t jeopardize your case.
6. Provide insight on how to communicate with an uncooperative or vengeful co-parent
It’s stressful and difficult to try to co-parent with someone who wants to make life miserable for you but a shift in mindset and approach may help. In her practice, Dr. Galloway encourages parents to calmly stick to the facts and treat this new stage in the parental relationship as a business partnership.
“You’re not married anymore but you are business partners, and your child or children are your business. You want your business to thrive, so you need to have open communication about what’s going on in the business. For example, ‘What do we need to work on. What do we need to try to do differently so that the business (children) will thrive?’ Focusing on what’s best for the child and not your own issues should be the priority,” Dr. Galloway says.
Need guidance from a family counselor or family law attorney in Tarrant County?
Parents who live near Dr. Galloway’s Keller, Texas practice—Galloway Counseling Center—can reach her office directly at (817) 932-3105. Dr. Galloway has been helping families as a licensed professional counselor for well over a decade and is frequently called upon by the family courts in Tarrant County to testify in divorce and child custody matters.
If you have legal questions about divorce and child custody in Texas, the Sisemore Law Firm is here to help. To schedule a confidential case review with our founder Justin Sisemore, contact our Fort Worth law office at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.
The information above is general in nature and shouldn’t be construed as legal or medical advice. Consult an attorney or mental health professional to find out what steps your family should take next.
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