What About Your Children?
Children and Divorce
When you have children, you make a commitment to manage their growth and development. This responsibility isn’t waived just because the marriage ends. Children can be the most complicated and controversial component of a divorce and you must pay close attention to their needs. Often in divorce younger children become a bartering tool and their well being gets lost in the game of tug-of-war. Older children, even those far from the nest, often experience a huge emotional roller coaster and, sometimes, their views on their own relationships are affected.
Like every other component of your divorce, there is both a business and emotional challenge in dealing with children during the process. If there are young ones under 18, there is the matter of custody. Regardless of your child’s age, there is the challenge of keeping them emotionally balanced through the process. Here are some tips for dealing with divorce and child custody:
The Business of Custody:
- Child custody and support are often the most disputed areas in divorce negotiations because they involve both emotions and money. Too often the children are used as a bargaining chip. Don’t settle for an unfair agreement just because your partner is threatening to take the children.
- Have the Court issue a temporary order regarding custody, visitation and child support.
- Talk to your attorney about how best to show the court that you are a reliable, loving parent looking for the best interest of the child(ren).
- Decide who will stay living in the home during the divorce process.
- Include questions of relocation before, during or after a divorce in the custody decision, not AFTER the divorce.
- Ask for the maximum amount of child support your child(ren) may receive. The average child support award is usually half of what the children need.
- Educate yourself on the child custody laws of your state by visiting your state’s bar association website.
- Make sure medical insurance for your children is part of the child support order.
The Emotional Balance of Children (of all ages):
- Be an effective communicator and keep children informed of what is happening. To the best of your ability, help them understand why divorce was inevitable without putting down your former partner. Remember, children of all ages are very perceptive and, if you don’t give them the information, they’ll invent it themselves.
- Do not make children take sides. Use your friends and support network to vent anger and frustration toward your ex, don’t project these feelings on the kids. You and your children may benefit from visiting a family counselor to learn effective communication skills during this time of emotional stress.
- Try to keep family events and traditions as intact as possible. This may mean that you and your former spouse need to take the highroad and rise above your emotions to continue holiday traditions or to both attend the children’s events or extracurricular activities. It is important that your children don’t feel they have been neglected or abandoned by either parent and that they can retain some sense of family that incorporates both their parents.
- Even if your children are all grown up, they still need to be kept in the communication loop. Also realize that seeing their parents split can have drastic impact on their current or future marriages or relationships. That is why it is so important to articulate what happened in your specific situation so they do not project negative feelings or cynicism on all relationships.
- Keep an eye open for drastic changes in behavior. The divorce process may be very stressful for children and the best way to fix this problem is to prevent it by constant observation and honest communication.
Visit the custody section on our bookshelf.
For another fine overview, court decisions, state and international details and other references visit Cornell University’s online Legal Information Institute.
Read more tips on Making Divorce Less Painful for Children.