Philip M. Stahl, PhD (2000):
"If parents continue fighting after their divorce, children begin to exhibit more behavioral and emotional problems. When parents divorce, children hope the fighting will go away so that they can get some peace in their life. Many children might not mind the divorce if their parents would finally learn to get along better. After the divorce, children want peace in their lives, and they want the opportunity to love both of their parents without loyalty conflicts. Instead, when conflicts worsen, children are left with many wounds."
These wounds and prolonged frustration can include feelings of disillusionment, fear, insecurity, vulnerability, and other such emotions. Children develop loyalty conflicts and become afraid to love both of their parents or to express their love for one parent in front of the other parent. Many of these children become aligned with only one parent, in part to reduce their anxiety and insecurity.
A high-conflict parent is often willfully oblivious to the fact that she or he is engaging in both obvious and subtle behaviors that cause their children to take sides and, as a result, feel depressed, anxious, angry, insecure, afraid, angry and torn in two. While it’s common for parents to blame each other if children exhibit these symptoms, it only serves to increase the conflict and make a bad situation worse. Therefore, reducing parental conflict is perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your children adjust after divorce (Kelly & Johnston, 2001).
Factors that contribute to post-divorce parental conflict include (Stahl, 1999):
A good way to do this is implementing a parallel parenting plan.
Parallel parenting is a way for parents who can’t cooperatively co-parent to raise their children with as little interaction as possible between one another. It is a form of shared child custody in which authority transfers from parent to parent as the children are exchanged. Each parent is in charge of the decisions regarding the children when the children are in their care. Remember that parallel parenting should be seen as a stepping stone towards co-operative parenting and should be managed correctly to minimize the damage to your children.
Parallel parenting allows you to have significant autonomy from your ex while the children are in your care. Such day-to-day autonomy frees you from having to consult with and receive approval from your ex regarding major decisions outlined in the parenting plan. Remember that if you are a co-holder of parental responsibilities and rights, both parents are bound to a court order - specify details carefully in your parenting plan.
Parallel parenting gives you and your ex the opportunity to be involved in your children’s lives and ensures that you both play an active and fruitful role in the lives of your children while removing sources of conflict through a structured and comprehensive parenting plan.
Disengagement from your high-conflict ex is the key to conflict reduction and successful parallel parenting. It’s a form of low contact rather than no contact.
Disengagement creates a “demilitarized zone” around your children in which you have little or no contact with your ex (Stahl, 2000).