Child Custody Rights - Effects of Divorce

Don't Give Children A Sophie's Choice
by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico

I sometimes say to divorcing parents, who are locked in a custody fight: Imagine that you have two children, and imagine the Court telling you that you can have only one of them. Imagine the Court telling you to pick one.

The parents usually look at me as though I were mad.

I then tell them about a movie I saw some years ago in which a mother was given that choice. It was World War II. She had been sent to a Nazi war camp. She had a small son and a small daughter. The Nazi soldiers said to her: "Pick one. Which one do you want?" The Mother said she could not choose between her children. The Nazi soldiers said if she didn't pick one, she would lose them both, so she picked one.

The name of the movie is "Sophie's Choice." It is about the life-long anguish that Sophie suffered from having to make a choice between her son and her daughter. The movie shows Sophie, after the war, as a rather aimless, nonproductive character and; an alcoholic.

I once thought that the movie was set in a Nazi war camp because no one, except a deranged Nazi, could possibly dream-up such a diabolical plot. But, that's not so. I see divorcing parents give their children Sophie's Choice every day.

When divorcing parents quarrel and struggle over their children or belittle one another in the children's presence, the message to the children is: Pick one of us. Which of your parents do you want?

Generally, the message is subtle. One parent puts on a long, sad face when the children leave to spend time with the other parent, or acts annoyed when the child reports having had a good time when with the other parent. Sometimes the message is blatant. Some parents actually ask the children, "which of us do you want to live with?"

Divorcing parents need to know that the most generous, the most loving gift each parent can give their children is his or her permission for the children to love the other parent and to accept love from the other parent. Many parents involved in custody disputes do not give their children that gift of permission. They give their children Sophie's Choice.

And the children who are faced with this choice often do as Sophie did--they self-destruct. They grow-up to be aimless, non-productive adults, with alcohol or drug problems, or worse. Theirs is the life-long anguish of being denied what should truly be an inalienable right--the right to love both parents.


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