A high-conflict, bitter, lingering divorce proceeding is hard on everyone involved. Animosity between spouses impacts not just their own day-to-day lives; it also trickles down to the younger members of the family. Children stuck in the middle of their parents' contentious divorce proceedings report higher levels of stress and anxiety, often deal with developmental issues, and can present with long-term heightened psychiatric and emotional needs.
You should, if only for your own mental and physical health, try to make your divorce as non-confrontational as possible. However, this is absolutely not to say that you shouldn't fight for what is best for yourself and for your children.
If important issues cannot be resolved, litigation is sometimes needed in order to ensure fairness. That said, the key point is to pick your battles. There's no need to proceed to litigation over small issues, like who would get to keep the television. Save the courtroom for larger disputes, like custody determinations or whether alimony/spousal maintenance is appropriate.
The long-term impact of conflict on children
Myriad studies have shown that children whose parents went through high-conflict divorces and remain hostile have more health issues - even into adulthood - than those whose parents remained married or who divorced civilly. These include a wide range of conditions and immunodeficiencies, and span everything from an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety to higher susceptibility to colds and bacterial or viral infections.
When you will be co-parenting with your child's other parent, civility is vital. Even if you still harbor negative emotions or resentment because of the circumstances of the divorce or events during the marriage, being able to compartmentalize those in front of your children is highly beneficial.
Let's say, for example, that you are - understandably - upset because of the possibility that your spouse was unfaithful during your marriage. It would be very easy to treat him or her with disdain throughout the divorce, and hold on to a great deal of animosity for years down the road because of those actions. For your children's sake, though, it is important that you rein in your emotions. There's no need to be best friends, but there are things you can do to protect your children's long-term health and happiness, including:
- Treating each other cordially in person
- Not talking bad about the other in front of the children
- Not elaborating on the "adult" issues that caused your divorce
Divorce can be difficult, even if the couple is able to work out a majority of their decisions without the need for court intervention. Emotions are high, stress levels are through the roof, and the process itself can be anxiety-provoking. Learning to focus your efforts on your children, and what is in their best interests, as well as being strategic about the issues in which you take a firmer stance, can make a huge difference.