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Easing the Strain of Divorce on Children

Divorce is a fact of modern life. Being overwhelmed by your distress and heartache, you may miss the effects of divorce on your children. Children especially feel this in the most vulnerable years between 6 to 12. That trauma can have a long-term impact on their mental health well into adulthood.

This article provides some tips for parents on easing the strain of divorce on children, from child custody negotiations to co-parenting.

Easing Children's Minds About Divorce

Even the best of divorces create stress for children. The worst divorces can leave lifelong scars. Not that divorce isn't sometimes the best or only option for an unhappy marriage. But, from the child's perspective, divorce is the end of the world as they've known it.

Uncertainty about the future is very frightening for children. They may wonder whether their parents will still love and care for them in the new situation. Depending on their age, a child's emotions can range from extreme fear of abandonment to anger and blame directed toward one or both parents.

The best thing parents can do is to make clear their continued love and commitment to care for the child. They love each parent, and dividing their time is difficult. Spending time with your children will help them feel more secure. Allow them to express their feelings. They are grieving the divorce, and they will miss the other parent. Showing your child support during this time is critical to their mental health.

The good news is that most children will adapt to their new normal within a year or two. But they need your help.

Custody Disputes: Put the Kids First

As a parent, you can help resolve custody disputes quickly. The sooner your child knows their future living situation, the sooner they can regain stability.

You and your ex-spouse should strive to reach a custody arrangement before you have to take a child custody case to trial. Try not to leave it to the family court to determine who should have custody of your children. They only have a partial view of your family dynamics and relationships. You, as parents, are in the best position to make this determination.

A full-blown custody dispute in court can raise uncomfortable issues. The most minor details of your life can paint a picture of you as an unfit parent. For a family law judge to make a child custody determination, they must determine what is in the "best interest" of your child. In a hotly contested custody case, the other parent wants the answer to be them. They may use anything they can think of to gain an advantage.

Judges favor joint custody arrangements over a single custodial parent, where appropriate. They look at what situation will benefit the well-being of the child. Child custody laws vary state by state, but judges consider evidence in these areas to determine what is in a child's best interest:

  • Parents: Mental and physical health of the parents, ability to provide a stable home environment, any evidence of parental unfitness (excessive discipline, domestic abuse, parental substance abuse, child abuse). The sex of the parent is not a factor in decision-making
  • Parent-Child Relationship: Child's bond with each parent, parental involvement in the child's life
  • Child: Child's age, the wishes of the child if they are old enough to express a reasonable preference
  • Family: Support and opportunity for interaction with extended family members and other household members. States emphasize more or less the value of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. See a summary of state laws on grandparent visitation
  • Environment: Adjustment to school and community, religious and cultural considerations

Other factors may also be relevant when determining the child's best interest. Child custody disputes have brought up a parent's smoking status, current romantic relationships, and past work habits.

It would be wise for parents to remember that dragging out a court battle drains the financial resources they need for this next phase of life. Arriving at a satisfactory compromise about who gets custody, even if not ideal, may be in everyone's best interest.

Remain Civil While Negotiating Child Custody

Consider Divorce Mediation

Divorce mediation can be helpful if you and your ex-spouse can work together. Mediation is particularly helpful in resolving conflicts over child custody. Divorce mediation allows the parties to negotiate the terms of their divorce together. The mediator ensures both parties cover all aspects of the divorce, including property division and spousal support or alimony.

Divorce mediation is less expensive and faster than a traditional divorce. You may not have to step foot inside a courtroom. The sooner your divorce is final, the faster everyone can settle into your new lives and routines.

Avoid the "Pawn" Game

Avoid using your child as a pawn to gain leverage in your divorce and child custody case, property division, or other financial disputes. Please don't use them to spy on your ex-spouse.

Avoid allowing your children to use you as a pawn to get an "easier" living situation.

After divorce, children still need limits and consistent discipline. As hard as it is, try to maintain a uniform front with your ex-spouse about expectations for desirable behavior and limits on unacceptable behavior. In the long run, this will help your child feel more secure.

Cooperate With Your Ex-Spouse

The divorce process can inspire powerful and negative feelings about someone you used to love. You may feel anger, abandonment, betrayal, or many overwhelming emotions. While all these feelings are valid and expected, try not to let them cloud what is best for your children's lives.

Take steps to ensure an atmosphere of cooperation with your ex-spouse. Often divorcing parents think (or hope) that the divorce will more or less rid them of their ex. When you have children, that is rarely the case. Divorced parents must work together until their children reach the age of majority (usually 18) and possibly beyond. Cooperation is essential to easing the strain of divorce on children and will help keep you out of court in the future.

Allow for fair custody and visitation rights. Avoid setting limits or rules for your ex-spouse that you cannot follow. Remember, there are no real winners or losers when your children are involved.

Avoid Criticizing Your Ex-Spouse

It is essential to avoid criticizing the other parent in the presence of your child. Research finds that children internalize such negative criticism. Children of divorce whose parents disparage one another experience more feelings of depression, loss, and abandonment. Divorce affects them more painfully.

It is so damaging that the divorce courts include non-disparagement clauses in child custody orders. They do not want parents to speak ill of one another. They want family and friends to avoid doing so around the children.

Make it a priority to encourage your child to have a good relationship with both parents. You've divorced (or are divorcing) your child's parent, but your child has not divorced that parent. Even when their parents are no longer together, children benefit from the love and support of both parents.

While no court can force you and your ex-spouse to work together. The more you strive for cooperation, the better your children will weather the divorce, both now and in the years to come.

Getting Divorced? Talk to a Family Law Attorney

Easing the strain of a divorce on your children should be a major priority. But you also may need professional help to arrive at a parenting time plan with your spouse. Only a divorce lawyer can give you legal advice and fight for your rights. Get the legal help you need. Talk to a local divorce attorney today.

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