Divorcing parents are much more aware of the effect of their words and behavior on their children than parents of previous generations were when they divorced. Criticizing or saying negative things about your co-parent can seriously damage the self-esteem of a child who may see those feelings as a reflection of how you feel about them.
Disparagement of a co-parent can actually drive your child farther away from you. They’re likely to feel protective of the parent who’s being disparaged. Understandably, they won’t want to be around someone (even a parent) who speaks negatively about someone they love.
To prevent this behavior, some couples include nondisparagement clauses in their parenting plans. No two clauses are precisely the same, but let’s look at some common provisions.
What do nondisparagement clauses cover?
The simplest clause typically states that neither parent will disparage the other to the child or to someone else in front of the child. Some clauses extend this to state that neither parent will criticize a co-parent’s new partner, spouse or stepchildren.
The clause may also stipulate that neither parent can disparage the other on social media. In addition, it may state that parents cannot use their children to deliver messages to each other.
Nondisparagement clauses are more aspirational than enforceable. You can’t be sure that your ex really said what your child claims or understood them to say. Even if you’re certain your ex is disparaging you, it can be difficult to prove. Further, if you took the matter to court, it would likely be weeks or even months before you could get before a judge. By then, you and your co-parent may have resolved the issue on your own or moved on to others.
The benefits of a nondisparagement clause
What a nondisparagement clause can do, however, is allow you and your co-parent to codify your expectations of how you will speak about the other in front of your children or in a public forum like a social media account. By reaching an agreement on this important issue, you’re likely to think twice before you speak and limit the things you say in front of your children about their other parent to positive or at least neutral comments.
If you’re considering including a nondisparagement clause in your parenting plan, it’s important to understand what it can and cannot do. Your family law attorney can help.