Cover image for In the best interest of the child : how to protect your child from the pain of your divorce
In the best interest of the child : how to protect your child from the pain of your divorce
Samenow, Stanton E., 1941-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 228 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ777.5 .S25 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HQ777.5 .S25 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Being fixed/mended

On Order



How to Divorce Your Spouse Without Hurting Your Child

Every good parent approaches the painful issue of divorce with the best of intentions: you pledge to shield your child from adult concerns, safeguard your child's tender feelings, and meet his or her emotional needs. You mean it when you say it, but divorce proceedings can and will test your resolve. Reality inevitably intrudes--fractious custody battles, foot-dragging, anger, resentment, financial woes. And the person who may suffer the most is the one whom you love the most--your child. In the Best Interest of the Child , the first book written from the point of view of the one person in the courtroom whose sole concern is the welfare of the child of divorce, gives you crucial information to protect your child and avoid common pitfalls.

As an independent child custody evaluator with eighteen years' experience, Dr. Stanton Samenow has interviewed thousands of parents, children, relatives, schoolteachers, babysitters, therapists, pediatricians, and family friends. He is familiar with worst-case scenarios, often having been called in to help families resolve child custody disputes after marriage counseling, mediation, and litigation have failed, and he has gained a uniquely comprehensive per-spective of what helps and what hurts children going through their parents' divorce. In this book, he identifies what parents most need to know to act in the best interest of their child.

In clear, compassionate, yet no-nonsense language, Dr. Samenow shows the child's view of divorce, what's at stake in the shift from one household to two, and why parents must see it through their child's eyes if they hope to act on his or her behalf. He'll help you identify basic parental styles and how they affect the way you and your spouse handle divorce proceedings. He provides a succinct overview of the legal system to help parents find the safest way through, with suggestions for working with attorneys and dealing with courts and hearings. Finally, he distills his extensive experience in advocating for thousands of children into seven errors parents commonly make and seven guidelines they should follow to help their kids get through divorce and get on with their lives.

"Even loving, well-intentioned parents lose perspective in the emotional turbulence of divorce--and it's always the children who pay the highest price. But separation, divorce, and resolving child custody need not wreck everyone's lives. There are ways to minimize the grief, anxiety, frustration, anger, and dissipation of resources. If you know what to avoid and if you take the positive steps I recommend, you can spare your child and yourself an enormous amount of suffering. You can act in the best interest of your child."

Which of the Seven Deadly Errors of parenting are you making in the midst of divorce?
* Do you denigrate the other parent?
* Do you use the phone, fax, or e-mail as a barricade in your communication with the other parent?
* Do you make your child compartmentalize his or her life?
* Do you compete for your child's affection?
* Do you align other people against your ex?
* Do you expose your child to adult issues?
* Have you introduced your child to a new love interest too soon?

In the Best Interest of the Child will show you how to avoid these mistakes and help your child thrive during a painful time.

Author Notes

He is a clinical psychologist who has spent the last thirty years as a researcher, clinician, consultant, and expert witness specializing in criminal behavior, and the last seventeen specializing as an independent evaluator in extremely adversarial child custody disputes. He has been appointed to three presidential task forces on law enforcement, victims' rights, and drug-free America. He has appeared on "60 Minutes," "Oprah," NBC's "Today" show, "Good Morning America," "Larry King" and numerous other national venues. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

(Bowker Author Biography)



The Demise of Family Life During warfare over child custody, were you to ask the parents about their motives, each would contend that he or she is acting in their child's best interest. This assertion likely would be followed by withering criticism of the other parent. Two human beings who vowed to spend their lives together have become the bitterest of enemies. By the time these parents are litigants in a custody battle, they can hardly recall what qualities attracted them to each other. In fact, even when pressed neither may be able to come up with any positive statement about his or her spouse. The threat by one parent to destroy the other in some fashion is not necessarily empty. I have seen it happen, psychologically and financially. During protracted warfare parents imperil their health, their jobs, their relationships, and, of course, their children's sense of security and well-being. To finance custody battles, parents have depleted their savings, dipped into retirement funds, invaded their children's college accounts, secured second mortgages, and borrowed from their own families. How much of an impact does your divorce have on your kids? On the one hand, some experts claim that living through a family breakup invariably results in permanent psychological scars. The opposite camp of experts believe that little lasting damage is done because children are amazingly resilient. Realistically, the impact depends on the dynamics of your family and the psychological makeup of your child. I have found that, no matter what the situation, children are hurt when the two human beings upon whom they depend most part company. I have yet to encounter a case of divorce in which the offspring do not experience intense sadness, considerable anxiety, and confusion. No matter how resilient he may appear, no child is immune to suffering during a family breakup, even if he remains materially comfortable, continues to perform well in school, and spends time with each of two devoted parents. An intelligent, poised, and unusually mature thirteen-year-old girl whose parents had separated seemed to be handling her situation with little difficulty. She remained an honor roll student, had lots of friends, and was able to continue living in the family home with her mother and sister while spending regular periods of time with her father. The school counselor told me that, other than what he learned from the parents, he never would have suspected anything was awry at home. This child was adept at hiding her misery. Near tears, she told me that more than anything else she wanted to spend equal time with her mom and dad. The issue wasn't so much the division of time but missing the life she had known for most of her thirteen years. She was very aware of her parents conflicts, but these meant little to her. As she pointed out, these were their differences with each other, and she was not part of that. She lived with and loved both and, as children do, took for granted that every day she would live in one home with her mother and her father. She resented having to divide her time between two homes and grieved losing the family that she regarded as the bedrock of her existence. Was this young adolescent traumatized for life by her parents' divorce? I doubt it. She still had strong relationships with both parents, who were psychologically sensitive and did their best to help and support her. She was able to remain in the same neighborhood and attend the same school, and she was afforded the opportunity to discuss her problems with a skilled therapist. Despite these favorable circumstances, unanswered questions remain: What loyalty issues did she inwardly contend with? To what extent was her trust in her parents and other adults shaken? If the two adults who were her anchor had let her down, could she feel confident that any relationship could survive conflict? How did her parents' divorce affect her hope of one day finding a mate and having a family? Of course, children of divorced parents do develop enduring relationships, marry, and raise families. Unarguably, the emotional toll is likely to be highest when parents continually involve their youngsters in adult conflicts. The losses are more bearable and the damage less when parents set aside their personal vendettas and cooperate in making decisions that affect their children. The focus of this book is how, during separation and divorce, you can reduce stress, minimize suffering, and behave in a manner that truly is in the best interest of your child. You may flinch at the horror stories you're about to read, but I've included them to sensitize you so that you can avoid denial and sidestep hurtful mistakes. Later in the book I will discuss the much preferred alternatives. Chapter 1 Divorce and Separation: Toxic Patterns In case after case of divorce I've seen, differences over money, in-laws, sex, child rearing, religion, and other matters took their toll. The critical issue wasn't that such differences existed. Rather the personalities of the spouses determined whether conflicts would get resolved. A discussion of the many reasons for divorce would require an entire book. My intent here is to identify the most common themes and patterns I've encountered during my years of conducting custody evaluations. Understanding the themes of your own marriage and dissolution can give you insights into the expectations you brought into the relationship and what you think should happen now that the marriage is over. Most of the men and women I've interviewed didn't rush into marriage. Because they had known their partners for years, they were pretty confident about their decision to marry. One of the nastiest divorces I encountered involved two people who knew each other nearly a decade before they married. In many instances these adults were in love with the idea of being married more than they were with each other. The mere state of being married fulfilled important psychological needs. It enhanced their self-image because someone had found them attractive. Marriage alleviated their loneliness. For men and women still emotionally or financially tied to their parents, it provided liberation. By getting married some could delay grappling with decisions about education and career. Some seemed drawn by a particular characteristic of a partner which so dominated their perception of that person that they overlooked a lot of qualities that later took their toll on the marriage. When sex became the early focus of the relationship, some couples mistook physical compatibility for overall compatibility. Some regarded marriage as a stepping-stone to higher social and economic status. They married to move up the rungs of the ladder, not to find a soul mate. Some confused shared goals with shared values. They could agree that they both wanted to have children, live in a comfortable home, and share an active social life. Not until they actually had a young child and were coping with the demands of a job and tending to routine chores did they make dismaying discoveries. Agreeing to have a child was easy, but agreeing on how to raise that child was impossible. In some cases by the time a parent discovered the demands of bringing up children, he already had become so immersed in ego-gratifying activities outside the home that he was reluctant to give them up. His spouse resented being saddled with the drudgery at home as a virtual single parent. The typical divorce story is that two people who thought they had everything in common eventually discover they share very little. Having gradually established separate lives with their own activities and friends, they become resentful of each other. Asked how this came to be, these men and women often tell me that their partner turned out to be very different from the person they originally married; they were baffled and distressed by the change. However, the idea that somehow their partner had changed so much was largely an illusion allowing them to shift the focus to their spouse rather than consider that they had erred in their perceptions or had had unrealistic expectations. In many instances unrealistic expectations had doomed the relationship from the beginning. For example, adults who enter marriage with strong unresolved dependency needs may drive a part- ner away. This occurs when a very dependent person constantly looks to another to gain self-confidence. In the early stages of the relationship, the fit between the two seems ideal. The more independent, confident partner feels needed and valued. And the dependent partner has found a tower of strength who will help him or her feel more secure and worthwhile. But a neurotic cycle ensues in which the dependent spouse makes incessant demands and doesn't feel complete unless validated by the other. The spouse on the receiving end feels more and more at a loss; sensing that he or she can never fulfill the needs of the spouse, the more independent partner becomes frustrated, depressed, or angry and may back away. Feeling abandoned and resentful, the dependent partner becomes even more demanding. Many years may pass before one or both realize that the marriage is unworkable. The couple may never really understand why things haven't worked out, and the marriage ends in bitterness. Characteristics of their partner that originally appealed to these men and women sometimes turned out to be liabilities. A number of women had been attracted by men who seemed decisive, ambitious, and ready to take charge of any situation. Later, they realized that the strength they admired was an attempt to control them. Anne had envisioned a traditional marriage in which her husband would be the breadwinner and she would stay home and raise their children. Attracted initially by Roy's charismatic personality, she began to feel trapped because Roy seemed to have turned into a dictator. In fact, he had always been a controller; it just took a few years for Anne to see him this way. On most matters she acquiesced in what he wanted because she didn't like confrontations. But when we met, Anne told me she couldn't bear living with him any longer. "He has an ugly personality. I was to take on all the traditional roles. My friends weren't good enough. I couldn't see this one or that one. My sister invited me out for my birthday. He said, 'How many other whores are going?'" Although she was Methodist, Anne had agreed to raise their four children Roman Catholic, since that was Roy's faith. This concession meant little to him, for he would have no part in their parochial school education. While Roy slept each morning, Anne drove the car pool and attended school-related activities without him. She noted, "Not until I nagged and whined and bitched did he get up earlier so he could pour cereal into a bowl." To show her children the church she grew up in, Anne took them to one Methodist service, making Roy furious. Attempting to regulate nearly every aspect of Anne's existence, Roy was scathingly critical of her dependency. She recalled, "I was told all I wanted was a free ride." Desiring to do something worthwhile on her own and contribute to the family's finances, Anne started a tutoring business. With pride she said, "I made more money per hour than I ever made." But Roy told her she was wasting her time and neglecting chores at home. Some divorcing husbands and wives failed to realize that a successful marriage requires effort. When marital differences emerged they yelled at each other but didn't work to resolve the differences. Resentment festered, and the relationship suffered. Since they'd never developed a successful way to address conflict, they simply stopped communicating. Some made a perfunctory try at marriage counseling but quickly concluded there was no hope. Others thought they could maintain the marriage as long as they had a relationship on the side that provided some compensation. One father told me that he had had "a great marriage"for years. He said that he could find no flaw in his wife, who had been faithful and seemed satisfied with their relationship. When I asked him why, if the marriage was so good, he embarked upon an affair, he replied, "It wasn't enough. Something was missing. I tried to put my finger on it. I don't know. I don't know if it was the excitement of having an affair. It was exciting to have someone want you." It turned out that this man's disaffection had very little to do with his spouse. He was an excitement junkie, perpetually dissatisfied with whatever he had. Instead of working to resolve difficulties or improve a situation, he sought illicit excitement to juice up his life. His wife and children were the victims. For some divorcing couples, having children crystallized their differences. Roger reported that Judi was thrilled at becoming pregnant. But not long after she gave birth the marital relationship changed drastically. Judi said that Roger seemed more married to his own parents than to her; he frequently called them, relied on their opinions about the baby's care, and ignored what she thought. "His family is the main priority," she told me. "It didn't seem that way when we were dating. He now goes to his parents about everything." When a physician recommended that their child have surgery, Roger ran to his parents for advice even though his father-in- law was a pediatrician. As the couple nitpicked at each other and quarreled over their child, they concluded that they had been dead wrong in believing that they shared similar values. They couldn't even agree on where to live, each insisting upon purchasing a home near his or her parents. Neither of these adults had moved beyond strong emotional dependence on his or her parents. Having a child made no difference. Neither Judi nor Roger was prepared to establish a life without the shelter of parents nearby. Some divorcing parents contended that their marriage disintegrated because one spouse was happy to be the child's playmate but shirked the more tedious aspects of child rearing. Many mothers complained they had to do it all, even if they worked outside the home. They acknowledged that their spouse entertained their child very well but rarely changed a diaper, fed or bathed the baby, or got up with the youngster at night. As soon as a child fussed, the father handed him back. Although it is not unusual for mothers to be more involved with infants, for these couples, infancy marked the beginning of a pattern of noninvolvement that became entrenched as the youngster got older. Feeling taken for granted and used, the mothers resented their husbands'refusal to be partners in child rearing. It's important to recognize how your misperceptions and frustrated expectations have contributed to the end of your marriage, because I've found that these same patterns perpetuate themselves through divorce proceedings and their aftermath. Excerpted from In the Best Interest of the Child: How to Protect Your Child from the Pain of Your Divorce by Stanton E. Samenow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.