There are lots of different “Bills of Rights” for children and parents of divorce available online. I’m re-posting this one that Rita and I originally published in November, 2000, in Counseling Today, a publication of the American Counseling Association. It’s a slight revision and has been on this blog for a while, but here it is in honor of all the kiddos out there who end up with the challenge of transitioning between two homes. Feel free to share or use as you wish.
A Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce
By John and Rita Sommers-Flanagan
I am a child of divorce. I hold these truths to be self-evident:
I have the right to be free from parent conflicts and hostilities. When you badmouth each other in front of me, it tears me apart inside. Don’t put me in the middle or try to play me against my other parent. And don’t burden me with your relationship problems, they’re yours, not mine.
I have the right to develop a relationship with both my parents. I love you both. I know you will sometimes be jealous about that, but you need to deal with it because you are the adult and I am the child.
I have a right to information about things that will affect my life. If you’re planning on getting a divorce, I have a right to know, as soon as is reasonable. Likewise, if you’re planning to move, get remarried, or any other major life change, I have a right to know about it.
Just as I have a right to basic information about my life, I also have a right to be protected from inappropriate information. This means you shouldn’t tell me about sexual exploits or similar misbehavior by my other parent. You also should not apologize to me – for my other parent – because this implies a derogatory judgment of my other parent. If you apologize to me, apologize for yourself.
I have a right to my own personal space in each of my homes. This doesn’t mean I can’t share a room with my brother or sister, but it does mean that I need space and time of my own. I also need some special personal items in my own space . . . and this just might include a picture of my other parent . . . don’t freak out about it.
I have a right to physical safety and adequate supervision. I know you may be very upset about your divorce, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect my needs for safety and supervision. I don’t want to be home alone all the time while you’re out dating someone new.
I have a right to spend time with both parents, without interference. My right to spend time with each of you shouldn’t be dependent upon how much money one of you has paid the other. That makes me feel cheap, like something you might buy in a store.
I have a right to financial and emotional support from both my parents, regardless of how much time I spend with either of you. This doesn’t mean I expect twice as much as other kids get, it just means that you should stop worrying about what I got from my other parent and focus on what you’re providing me.
I have a right to firm limits and boundaries and reasonable expectations. Just because I’m a child of divorce doesn’t mean I can’t handle chores, homework, or other normal childhood responsibilities. On the other hand, keep in mind that even though I may have a little sister or brother (or step-sister or step-brother), I’m not the designated babysitter.
I have a right to your patience. I didn’t choose to go through a divorce; I didn’t choose to have my biological parents live in two different homes, move away, date different people, and in general, turn my world upside down. Therefore, more than most children, my life has been beyond my control. This means I will need your help and support to work through my control issues. You also need to give me time to get comfortable with your new romantic interests. You’re my parent and you should handle my discipline and not hand it over to some new person who I don’t even trust yet.
Finally, I have a right to be a child. I shouldn’t have to be your spy, your special confidant, or your mother. Just because you hate to talk to each other, I shouldn’t have to be your personal message courier. I exist because you created me. Therefore, I have a right to be more than a child of divorce. I have a right to be a child whose parents love me more than they’ve come to hate each other.
For more information on the Children’s perspective on separation and divorce, check out our book, Don’t Divorce Us!: Kids’ advice to divorcing parents. It sells from $0.81 on Amazon and is available in Turkish:)
2 thoughts on “A Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce”
One of the most helpful things someone has said to me or that I read (cant remember) along the way was, “divorce is not a one day or one month event, it is an ongoing experience.” 20 years after the day the papers are signed, the ramifications are still impacting situations.
Thanks John for writing this; I feel understood as many children of divorced parents do I am sure 🙂
I agree with the ongoing effects of divorce. There are dynamics that just go on and on. I hope the temperature in your parts have risen higher than 40 below!