Bethenny Frankel: How Can You Make Sure a Custody Battle Doesn’t Hurt Your Kids?

Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel is making headlines again after entering a custody battle with her ex Jason Hoppy. The two are fighting for full custody of their only child, Bryn. Will the custody battle have a negative impact on Bryn?

If you’re facing a custody battle, it’s important to keep your children’s well-being in mind. How can you make sure they stay emotionally well during this stressful time? The Cheat Sheet spoke with licensed marriage and family therapist Michelle Farris for tips on how to prevent the custody process from negatively impacting your child’s mental health.

Bethenny Frankel|Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Bethenny Frankel|Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The Cheat Sheet: How can you make sure your children don’t suffer emotionally during a custody battle?  

Michelle Farris: Even though custody battles are known to be contentious, you can make it easier on your kids by keeping things civil. Although settling out of court is ideal, that’s not always possible.

Having realistic expectations about the custody process will help you be less frustrated. For instance, don’t assume you will get sole custody. Unless there are issues of abuse that require additional safeguards, the courts realize the importance of both parents playing an active role in your child’s life. No matter what you think of your ex, consistent visitation needs to be supported. Your child’s ability to develop trust and feel loved largely depends on parental involvement. Without it, they will lack the emotional stability to create healthy relationships in adulthood.

What you can do: Strive to create a fair settlement that benefits your child first. Support your child’s relationship with the other parent as much as you can. By demonstrating respectful behavior towards the other parent, you are role modeling important relationship skills that will last a lifetime.

Bethenny Frankel|Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images
Bethenny Frankel|Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images

CS: Generally, how are children affected when parents get involved in a nasty custody fight?

MF: When there is a custody battle, the child feels torn between warring parents. They will blame themselves for what’s happening because the fight centers around them. Seeing their parents battle each other creates a level of stress that can have lasting consequences. Children end up feeling responsible for their family’s pain. This can trigger issues of depression, anxiety, and destructive behaviors. Often, their pain is minimized or unseen because the drama of the custody battle becomes the primary focus.

While feelings of sadness and grief are to be expected around the divorce, protect your child’s emotional well-being by shielding them from the unpleasant details. They should not be privy to the complaints you have about each other. Instead, reassure them that they are loved and that both of you are working toward a solution.

Bethenny Frankel and daughter Bryn|Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Dress for Success Worldwide
Bethenny Frankel and daughter Bryn|Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Dress for Success Worldwide

CS: How can spouses make the custody process more pleasant for each other?

MF: You have the power to create a more amicable experience for you and your family. Even when your ex refuses to reciprocate, you can fight for what you believe in without getting into the nastiness of fighting. Focus on the facts and don’t embellish to win your case. Demonizing the other parent often backfires and makes you look vindictive.

Start by hiring the right lawyer. While it’s important to have an experienced advocate, your attorney is essentially an extension of you. Choosing someone who lacks integrity and focuses on “getting results no matter what the cost” can provoke a chain reaction of destructive behavior that’s hard to repair later.

Before hiring legal representation inquire about their methods of negotiating. Be mindful that ethical attorneys are assertive without being verbally manipulative or aggressive. When stating your case, name the specific behavior without launching a character attack. An effective tool to keep communication clean is to use “I statements” whenever possible. They are highly effective to prevent blame and focus your communication on thoughts, observations and subjective experiences, not personal judgments. The courts want to see humility, not someone claiming to be the superior parent.

Bethenny Frankel| Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Skinnygirl Jeans
Bethenny Frankel| Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Skinnygirl Jeans

Reach a settlement that is in the best interest of your children. Never do anything to alienate your child from the other parent. If you have concerns about your ex’s parenting, express those concerns in a neutral way. When there are issues related to the child’s safety, don’t assume custody shouldn’t be granted. Supervised visitation provides the child a safe means to stay connected. While it’s not ideal, it keeps their connection consistent which helps the child feel more secure.

CS: Any tips for Bethenny Frankel as she fights to get custody of her daughter?

MF: Be willing to look at your own behavior first. Taking accountability makes you a good parent. When you avoid taking responsibility for the chaos you’ve created, it only hurts your child further.

Read more: Britney Spears and 14 Other Expensive Celebrity Child Support Settlements 

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