Family law attorney Margo Green, of Green, Cordonnier & House

While they’re navigating a divorce— amicable or acrimonious—parents sometimes neglect the impact on their children, whether they’re toddlers or teenagers. One of the more common mistakes, says family law attorney Margo Green, is speaking negatively about the other parent. “It lowers the self-image of the child, because let’s face it—if Dad’s no good, then the child’s no good,” she explains. “Parents have to realize that no matter how they feel about their spouse, they cannot share those negative feelings with their children.” It’s not just conversations with the kids that cause damage, she adds. “So many times a mom or dad can be having a telephone conversation and not realize the child in the next room can hear everything.”

Green is the managing partner of Green Cordonnier & House, a St. Louis law firm focused exclusively on the practice of family law. Its seven attorneys have more than 100 years of combined legal experience, and Green’s own career involved working with children before she was a lawyer. “I was a deputy juvenile officer in the St. Louis family court, with a caseload of kids. When I realized I wanted to learn about protecting their legal rights, I opted for law school instead of a master’s degree in social work. It’s worked out well, because I care about kids and I want to help families.”

Green says the pressure and anxiety a child experiences during a divorce is superbly illustrated in a recently released film. “It’s a foreign film out of Iran called The Separation,” she says. “This is such a significant movie about divorce, and what happens to children when they are put in the middle. You cannot do that to your children, and the movie is an eloquent portrayal of why this is so.”

Green has been named the 2012 chairperson of the advisory board for Kids in the Middle, an organization designed to help children through the divorce process with counseling and education. “So many children are referred there, because their families are fighting and the children need help coping,” she says. “Kids in the Middle does a wonderful job, helping children to understand that, even though mom and dad are getting divorced, they still love their kids and that part of their life is not going to change.”

In recent years, she notes, the organization has also offered counseling for parents. “That ‘whole family’ solution is so important,” Green emphasizes. “We need to do a better job of not putting our children in the middle.”

Although some parents might not even realize their child is struggling, Green says there are signs that can indicate the need for intervention. “If you have a child who’s suddenly begun acting out in school, for example, with no prior history of difficult behavior, or a younger child who’s regressed in toilet training, those can be red flags that the tension and anxiety in the home is affecting them. This is when we urge people to separate during the divorce process.”

While parents want to preserve their relationship with their children, it’s critical for them to preserve a relationship with their spouse, Green says. “You’re still the parents when it’s all over. And while you may fight during the process, you have to put those emotions behind you and make joint decisions and co-parent these children.” It can take longer for some couples than others, she adds, but it can be done. “Once the divorce is granted and people go their separate ways, as long as they care about those kids—yes, I think things can improve.”