An Ugly Divorce Can Affect A Child’s Long-Term Health

  • By Gabriel Morales
  • 09 Aug, 2017

When Alexis Moore was three years old, she was thrown into the center of an ugly custody battle. Lawyers argued over her fate as she watched in silent horror. “My voice was never heard,” Moore, remembers. “I became nothing more than a pawn in a game of cat and mouse between my parents and the courts.” Moore is now an attorney and advocate in Sacramento. She believes that the weeks and months of sustained childhood stress took its toll. “I was diagnosed with an ulcer when I was 16, and stress was a contributing factor,” she says. “It was never said to be from the divorce, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the toll that…stress will have on the stomach of any person.”

Indeed, several studies have shown that ugly divorces can harm children’s physical health, even in the long-term. One 1993 study reported that family conflicts are “strongly related to illness later in life, as well as with mortality.” A handful of subsequent studies confirmed that kids from broken homes tend to have shorter lifespans (although no studies have proven causation). Other research has established links between ugly divorces, psychological stress, and immune deficiencies, suggesting that kids who spend their childhoods in family court may be more susceptible to disease later in life. Recently, a surprisingly robust study managed to demonstrate that kids from broken homes are more likely to catch colds, even into adulthood.

“Any kind of anxiety caused by divorce or separation can and will affect a child’s physical health,” explains Kathryn Smerling, an Upper East Side psychotherapist focused on family therapy. “It can cause frequent colds, sore throat, psoriasis, stomach aches, inability to fall asleep, eating disorders, it runs the gamut.” She notes that these ailments don’t simply resolve with age and experience. In fact, failing to resolve childhood issues can lead to more physiological issues later in life. “This can lead to IBS, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of something out of balance,” Smerling warns.

Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica notes that stress is mostly a harmless part of our everyday lives, but chronic, intense stress is a different animal. “When stress is experienced chronically, without relief or reprieve, it begins to have negative repercussions upon health,” she explains. “Chronic stress negatively impacts resiliency factors in the body increasing the risk for autoimmune illness, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, hormonal shifts and imbalances, and viral infections. Chronic stress may lead to long-term physical and mental health challenges including heightened risk for depression, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation.”

Naturally, it’s not the ugly divorce that causes illness but the chronic stress that children are exposed to when their parents volley them between custody battles and passive-aggressive weekends. The hallmark study on the subject of how chronic childhood stress impacts health, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, concluded that stress can cause flare-ups in chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. It can also kick off new diseases such as obesity, hypertension, and susceptibility to infection. Perhaps it’s not surprising that researchers would find adults who experienced ugly divorces as kids are more likely to catch colds.

That’s not to say every kid who suffers through a tragic divorce is going to get sick. Jarret Patton, a private practice physician in Reading, Pennsylvania, says that some children draw strength from early adversity. “The effects of chronic stress aren’t always bad,” he says. “Resilience can also develop strongly in many of these children. It is this resilience that builds strong leadership potential into adulthood by having risk tolerance, diverse communication skills and the perspective of the big picture.”

For her part, Moore credits later success as an attorney, in part, to facing those very challenges as a child. “This childhood experience gave me that real life experience most lawyers don’t have,” she says. “I have passion and enthusiasm that you don’t acquire from law study and passing the bar.”

Obviously, no parent wants their kids to succeed in spite of their mairital adversity. Fortunately, studies suggest that there’s a way to mitigate some of the harms of a divorce so that children suffer from the least possible chronic stress—remaining on good speaking terms with your ex. “Studies have shown that children of divorced parents that are amicable and present little friction are healthier and have less emotional scarring than those who have been through a chaotic divorce in which they inevitability are at the center” Smerling says. “A ping pong match is never easy for a child.” Moore puts it bluntly: “Parents need to get their shit together and stop using their children as chattel and pawns in the battle against one another.”

This is not always possible. A parent fleeing an abusive marriage, for instance, wouldn’t want to remain on speaking terms with a dangerous ex. Still, there are ways to help a child adjust. “Make sure that you don’t talk about the other parent behind their back,” Smerling says. “Support the child and leave your personal vendettas to your own therapist.” Mendez adds that simply being present and acting as a good role model can do wonders. “Attend to your children and participate in all aspects of their life,” she says. “And be mindful of modeling positive and effective stress management.”

Moore agrees. “Don’t use the children as a pawn to get back at the other for whatever wrong you are feeling,” she says. “Go get counseling, take on a hobby, do whatever you can to eliminate using your child as a weapon or as a pawn in the courts. The laws don’t allow for children to have a voice in most states until they are well approaching adulthood and, by that time, the damage has already been done.”


By Gabriel Morales 24 Oct, 2017

By Susan Saper Galamba

Statistics show that alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States. It also tends to be a big problem in divorces.

There has been a significant increase in cases in the last two or three years in which I have seen one spouse claim that the other spouse abused alcohol. Generally, the spouse I meet with claims that his or her spouse is an alcoholic. As I’m not a teetotaler, I never just accept the claim at face value; rather, I always inquire into the details of the allegations. The fact that someone has a drink every day does not mean he or she is an alcoholic. However, when a person’s dependency on alcohol results in problems with interpersonal relationships, an inability to control alcohol consumption and a disregard of the damage that the alcohol is doing to the spouse and the family, the reality is that there is an issue of alcohol dependency.

Alcoholism is the monster in the closet. It is the “thing” for which spouses and children make excuses to keep the monster hidden. What is often the most difficult aspect of divorce for the spouse of an alcoholic is opening the door to the closet and letting the monster come out. This “thing” that the spouse has hidden so well will now have to be proven in court to protect the children. A spouse’s alcoholism may not be an issue if minor children are not part of a divorce; however, it is a significant issue when minor children are involved.

Generally, there is a huge amount of guilt involved when the spouse of an alcoholic seriously considers divorce, especially when what the spouse really wants is for the alcoholic to seek help. Whether a spouse is an alcoholic or not, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that the only person you can control is yourself, and if an alcoholic refuses to help him or herself, you have to protect yourself and your children. If you are considering divorce and are married to someone who is dependent on alcohol, you have to stop covering it up. This doesn’t mean you should start making overt statements about your spouse’s problems with alcohol, but rather you should not hide it. If your spouse’s alcohol abuse is going to be an issue in your case, you will have to be able to prove it, but if no one knows about it, how are you going to prove it? Taking a picture of all of the empty beer cans in the trash isn’t going to do the trick. Think about it this way: the picture doesn’t prove your spouse actually drank all the beers in the trash. Conversely, how are you going to refute the allegation that you bought the beers and are merely setting him or her up? However, if you have friends or family members who can substantiate the alcohol abuse, have videos that document the behavior or have other evidence that corroborates your allegations, you are going to be in a much better position when you file for divorce.

It’s also important to seek the assistance of a mental health professional for yourself and children, if applicable. You will most likely have plenty of blame thrown at you from your alcoholic spouse, including being the cause of his or her need for alcohol. The input you receive from a mental health professional will allow you to process what’s happening without having your guilt control your reaction. It will also allow your children the opportunity to freely express themselves without the concern that they are being disloyal to the other parent.

A frequent obstacle in the pursuit of divorce is the non-alcoholic spouse’s concern about the alcoholic spouse having parenting time with the children. It is this exact reason that you will need proof of the spouse’s alcohol abuse. Courts are supposed to make decisions based on the best interests of minor children, which includes the children’s safety and overall well being. If you have evidence of current alcohol abuse that would endanger the safety of your child, the likelihood is extremely good that there will be restrictions on the alcoholic spouse’s parenting time.

The essential component in these situations is exposing the monster and being able to prove that the spouse’s alcohol dependency endangers the safety of the child. Your word is not going to be enough long-term. I can also assure you that an alcohol dependent spouse who is unwilling to get help will either deny or downplay his or her alcohol consumption. Even when a spouse is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or public intoxication, the claim will be made that the children weren’t with him or her and away from danger. It is in these types of situations that you need to be able to prove that the DUI is merely an example of the alcohol dependent spouse’s poor decision making, and offer additional evidence regarding instances when the children’s safety was at risk.

The decision to dissolve your marriage to someone who you have always protected and whose monster you have kept hidden in the closet is unbelievably difficult. However, the fear of not knowing what will happen when you open the closet door shouldn’t prevent you from protecting yourself and your children.


By Gabriel Morales 10 Sep, 2017

On Sept. 5, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the orderly phase out of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DHS will provide a limited, six-month window during which it will consider certain requests for DACA and applications for work authorization, under specific parameters. Read the memorandum from Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke for details.

Next Steps for Phasing Out DACA

All DACA benefits are provided on a two-year basis, so individuals who currently have DACA will be allowed to retain both DACA and their work authorizations (EADs) until they expire.

USCIS will adjudicate, on an individual, case by case basis:

Properly filed pending DACA initial requests and associated applications for employment authorization documents (EADs) that have been accepted as of Sept. 5, 2017.
Properly filed pending DACA renewal requests and associated applications for EADs from current beneficiaries that have been accepted as of the date of this memorandum, and from current beneficiaries whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 that have been accepted as of Oct. 5, 2017.
Individuals who have not submitted an application by Sept. 5, for an initial request under DACA may no longer apply. USCIS will reject all applications for initial requests received after Sept. 5.


By Gabriel Morales 08 Sep, 2017

FEBRUARY 21, 2017

Facing a divorce is confusing.
You are approaching an unfamiliar process. Have you heard about divorce mediation? Here is my summary of the divorce mediation process.

I work with both husband and wife together.
You don’t need to be on the same page regarding the resolution of your divorce matters. You do need to be in agreement to voluntarily walk into the room and participate in the mediation process. It is my job to help guide you toward a Marital Settlement Agreement that is equitable to both parties. I provide information about the relevant law from a neutral perspective. The process includes both spouses and me, your attorney mediator, in the mediation room, but you may each consult with separate attorneys any time you want, before or during the mediation process.

What are the benefits? Money is a big one.
Mediation is significantly less expensive than the courtroom battle of litigation. We use a set fee rather than a retainer and hourly rate as is traditional in the legal field. I cannot estimate a specific fee until I meet with both of you during the complimentary consultation in order to know what your issues are and the resulting number of mediation sessions that will be required to complete your divorce process, but I will tell you that the set fee tends to be lower than the initial retainer you would each be quoted from a litigator.

Time is another advantage.
The duration of mediation is measured in months rather than years.

Mediation is more constructive and respectful.
The nature of litigation can become a cycle of negativity. Generally divorcing spouses don’t agree on the resolution of the issues when you begin the mediation process and working toward resolution is a much healthier path through a mediated divorce.


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