Knowledge Base

Children Come First in Divorce:
Serving the Best Interest of Children in Divorce


July 1, 2010
Written by Lynne C. Halem

It would be hard to find a parent who would be against the idea of protecting the best interests of their children. 

Have you ever heard a mother or a father claim that they are not acting in their children’s best interests?  Of course not. 

The disagreement is not with the concept in and of itself, but with each individual’s translation of its meaning.  Here the differences between parents are apparent in intact families as well as in divorced families.  Arguments range from the seemingly mundane disputes to those with weighty consequences.

“No, our Johnny should not play soccer until he is in first grade.”  Or maybe, “No, Johnny needs to take two naps a day.”  Or, “Yes, we do need to help finance Johnny’s college.”

Parental disagreements on food, sleeping, television watching, movies, bedtime – all household policies are endless.  As, too, are those that deal with the larger issues such as need for medical help (especially with respect to the delivery of psychiatric services) and financing post-secondary education.  Parental debates almost always invoke the powerful claim that one parent is thinking only of Johnny’s or Mary’s best interests.  Consider, for a moment, a conversation on funding a child’s post-secondary education, clearly a major question in many homes.

There are no “clues”, no “giveaways” in this parental dispute as to whether the parents are married or divorced. Parenting disputes bridge any noticeably gap between families.  By extension one can agree that all parents are alike even if they live in different households.

This brings us full circle back to our central question of what, then, is really in Johnny’s or Mary’s best interest?  At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), we would argue that there is no uniform definition of what is in a child’s best interests and, more importantly, that no two children have identical needs or are best served in the same way. However, there are certain guidelines that do support a more generalized definition of what is in a child’s best interests. The following are a few examples:

Couples who elect to mediate their divorce often elect to do so precisely because they want to protect their children from injury.  They believe that by structuring their divorce together, they can focus on the “best interests of their children”.  Clearly, by now, it has become obvious that these well-intentioned parents may not agree on what is best for their children.  They may, for example, disagree on custodial arrangements, on family policies, and on questions pertaining to the delivery of psychological services and on financing college.  Yet disagreement in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  The danger lies not in having differences of opinion but rather in the route you choose for resolving your differences.  Mediation is, of course, a positive step; it denotes for the vast majority of its participants an intention to work together to reach agreements.  Perhaps it also means that parents have to focus, first and last, on fashioning parenting plans and determining long-range planning for their children’s welfare – together.  Each one may need to compromise on the final agreements but compromises reached together are always superior to court-determined edicts.  No one wins in a custody suit; no one wins when parents enter into protracted and heated contests over children or finances.  Mediation, as a commitment to reach agreement, is a gift that well-intended parents give to their children – in the end that is clearly in the best interests of the children.

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