Food for Thought: Could Your Children Sue You For a Bad Divorce?

The story of Rachel Canning, the 18 year old New Jersey high school senior who sued her parents over college tuition and child support, made national headlines.  Though Canning dropped the suit after moving back in with her parents, the discussion surrounding the case provoked a good deal of thought, in that the topic of debate wasn’t whether or not Canning had a right to sue her parents, but in examining the details of the case. Since she had left voluntarily and with awareness of the consequences of doing so, she did not have much of a case.  However, there seemed to be general consensus that had the circumstances been different (for example, she was still a minor or her parents had forced her out and cut support rather than it being a voluntary decision), legally, parents could potentially be held accountable if they fail to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children. 

In my mind, this provoked the question: could children potentially sue their parents for a bad divorce?  Studies have shown how a couple divorces, rather than the divorce itself, is the factor most impacting the children.  If parents have a choice to pursue a dignified divorce which puts their children’s needs and interests at the forefront, but they fail to do so, should they be held accountable? 

Obviously, in some cases such as those involving domestic violence or disabilities, the choices are far more limited in terms of the feasibility of pursuing an out of court settlement.  These questions would pertain more to the parents who willingly choose to make their children’s pawns in the divorce—who go out of their way to deny the other parent an active role in the lives of the children out of spite, rather than any legitimate concern.  These children would be the most likely to suffer from a myriad of problems as a result of this behavior: learning disabilities, difficulties forming relationships, depression, acting out, etc. Sadly, in most cases these same parents who brought about these issues through their behavior will fail to take any responsibility for their role, nor give their children the proper support system to rectify these issues. 

In closing, regardless of the feasibility of legal ramifications, I urge you to put aside your anger, frustration, and resentment and make sure that you are putting your children and their needs at the forefront when making decisions regarding your divorce.  

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