This article traces how parental vulnerability to the feelings of humiliation and loss (inherent in highly conflicted divorce and custody litigation) distorts parenting capacities and parent-child relationships in distinctive ways, putting children at risk for specific kinds of developmental difficulties. Pre-oedipal children often fail to achieve a complete separation from their primary caretakers. Oedipal children, already struggling with separation issues, manifest sexualized anxiety and discomfort with gender identity. By latency, these children present as fragmented within themselves and in relationships with others. Each stage-specific response is discussed and illustrated. It is argued that mental health and legal professionals can use this in-depth understanding of child responses to help parents reframe their disputing agendas in terms of the child's developmental concerns and preoccupations to produce custody settlements that are more protective of the child's best interests.