Dear Carolyn,

My grandchild is experiencing his parents going through a divorce. The divorce is mainly because my grandson is physically and verbally abused. He also is seeing his father hit his mother (my daughter), mainly when the father is drinking too much. I also suspect, but cannot prove, illegal drug use. What is likely to be the consequences to my dear little grandson? What can I do?

Carolyn Answers …

Congratulations to your daughter for escaping this situation. Your first proactive step is to get your daughter as much emotional, psychological and legal assistance as possible. Commend her for making this positive decision to escape. Help her find and pay a therapist if she cannot pay for one herself. She should find out for why she was attracted to this man so that she doesn’t pick out another one just like him. These patterns repeat themselves. Help her pay for the best family lawyer you can afford. Work, if possible, toward obtaining supervised visitation only with the abuser of the child, particularly if the father is unwilling to get help for serious treatment for abuse, alcohol and drugs.

Now for your grandson. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente did a study that included 10 areas of childhood stress and trauma: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, divorce, an incarcerated parent, physical neglect, a household member with mental illness, emotional neglect, a household where mother or stepmother is a victim of domestic violence and emotional neglect. These categories are considered collectively as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Children who have fall under four or more of these 10 categories are at substantial risk for many serious problems. The study showed a four- to 12-fold increased risk for suicide, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse. The problems do not stop with these big four. There is also a two- to four-fold increase in risk for smoking, obesity and sexual promiscuity and STDs. The study revealed that many with four or more encounters with ACEs had died 20 years younger than persons with no ACEs.

Based upon this study, your grandson has at least four risk factors: divorce, an alcoholic parent, physical abuse and seeing his mother abused. The verbal abuse is probably a fifth factor in the category of emotional abuse. Then there is a sixth factor if there are illegal drugs being used. It seems that your grandson may be at risk for some pretty substantial problems.

Society needs resources for parent coaching that is one on one with parenting situations. A parenting coach could work much like a life coach. The parenting coach needs a lot of training and needs to be someone with a cognitive therapy background or extreme insight into parenting in a dysfunctional situation.

I feel it is almost a cliché to say, get your grandson therapy. And, of course, you should. Probably the least understood concept in family law and family court is that the parent must be totally retrained, or this will be recurrent for the next generation. Yes, we have some limited parenting education, but those sessions are not intensive enough to retrain the serious situations with multiple ACES, which are more common than one might think.

Hopefully, early intervention will be healing for both your daughter and grandson. And, grandma, you might look into your background with a cognitive therapist as well, because we have to ask ourselves, why did your daughter let this happen to her and her child? What did she see, feel or hear in your home that made her vulnerable?



Dear Carolyn,

I want a divorce. My husband is on the same page and wants a divorce also. We don’t have children and are both economically well situated. How do we have a good divorce?


Carolyn Answers …

I applaud you for wanting a good divorce, and this is possible. You have some of the essential elements, such as both of you want the divorce. Good divorces are a little harder to achieve if one person wants the divorce and the other party does not. There are no children, which sometimes can add to problems if parents are not on the same page. Also, there are no spousal support issues, so there is not likely resentment related to paying alimony.

I would recommend the book Splitopia, a play on the word “utopia.” Splitopia is one woman’s real experience with a good divorce. She discusses the many factors regarding how to achieve a good divorce. She suggests an “elevator speech” designed to tell friends and family what they need to know, but not too much information they neither need to know and probably do not want to know. Perhaps you and your ex can develop a similar elevator speech so you are on the same page. She also suggests an “unwedding party.” I call this a divorce party, and divorce parties are becoming more common. Make the divorce a celebration and toast the new you with your friends. Bring in the new you, just like you do the New Year.


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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.