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J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 August; 19(3): 233–234.
PMCID: PMC2938762

Children of Divorce: A Practical Guide for Parents, Therapists, Attorneys and Judges, Second Edition

Reviewed by Kevin Nugent, MD, FRCPC, DiplChPsych

Children of Divorce: A Practical Guide for Parents, Therapists, Attorneys and Judges, Second Edition.
William Bernet  &  Don R. Ash .  Krieger Publishing Company:  Malabar, Florida,  2007.  189 pages.  $31.50 (US). 

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This impressive little book truly lives up to its title. Dr. Bernet is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. His co-author Judge Ash has extensive family court involvement and has pioneered the use of “parenting plans” in Tennessee courts. The authors bring together a thoughtful, pragmatic and well-integrated overview of the impact of divorce, with a solution-focused emphasis. They acknowledge that their primary audience is “parents who are divorcing or already divorced and are hoping to rear their children in a healthy manner” (page 1). As such, this is a concise and easily read work, but the depth of the authors’ experience and wisdom means that this is also a very useful book for the various professionals addressed in their title. Others, such as extended family members and educators, might also find this book helpful.

Most chapters commence with an interesting case scenario or two to highlight issues relevant to the specific topic. They also briefly cite and review relevant precedent-setting or widely-known case examples in well-placed inserts. Early chapters address core issues related to separation and divorce, custodial and access arrangements and the needs and rights of children. Later on they move through a series of practical issues such as planning for holidays and holy days, moving, stepfamilies, grandparents and dealing with school and mental health professionals. Concise statements regarding “Children’s Rights in Divorce” (page 59) and “Ten Steps for Raising Children in Divorced Families” (page 174) are thoughtfully constructed and should be in wide circulation. The authors also provide a useful collection of additional internet-based resources that address core and related issues.

In this book, there is a strong push towards creative solutions and customized “parenting plans”, and championing of the value of divorce mediation and counseling. Indeed, there are clear statements about the various kinds of contributions clinicians can provide throughout the often-extended process of divorce, with an emphasis placed upon the need for clinicians to be clear and transparent regarding their role. The level of discussion does not require one to have a special career focus in this area to find this useful and relevant to most practices.

The authors do not side-step difficult issues such as hostile separation and extended litigation, parental alienation and legal approaches that place undue emphasis on parental rights over the child’s rights and needs. Here too, their frank identification of these issues may help clarify these matters for parents, and their practical recommendations might be useful to legal and clinical professionals.

It is difficult to identify areas to improve upon in this book. Prior to reading it, I had worried that their use of American case precedents and examples might be problematic from a Canadian point of view. However, there is a clear universality to these issues and surprising parallels in how these legal matters have evolved in both jurisdictions. Certainly the clinical issues have a strong concordance with those that arise in this country. Even statistical references suggest that the realities south of the border are not much different than those we deal with in Canada.

This book contains some linguistic awkwardness. The authors utilize gender-neutral language throughout, which is to be applauded, however they recommend use of the terms “primary residential parent” and “nonprimary residential parent” over the more commonplace and historical “custodial parent” and “noncustodial parent’. They acknowledge that these terms are cumbersome, but feel that this language supports more readily an emphasis on “parenting plans” and shared parenting. While the principle here is admirable, I still find these terms difficult at times, and certainly they have not gained much foothold in common parlance.

Overall, this volume is highly recommended. It is an interesting and easily read, up-to-date, and very practical review. Its emphasis on creative solutions and generally optimistic tone is most welcome. Clearly these authors bring experienced and credible points of view, which are integrated seamlessly. Particular readers might wish to access relevant topical chapters rather than read the entire book. These overviews of often difficult matters could well be a help to stimulate the thinking of both legal and clinical professionals, and might often be very helpful reading for clients dealing with these matters.

Articles from Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are provided here courtesy of Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry