Going through a divorce is difficult. This is true regardless of the situation. Whether your case is contested or uncontested, divorce is a stressful and emotional time. If the relationship between divorcing parents is contentious, the divorce process can be exhausting, devastating, and overwhelming.
Divorce is hard enough when you are only dividing assets and debts, but it can become more difficult to emotionally get through when children are involved. Parents who are emotionally charged tend to focus on winning the custody battle or trying to do what is best for their children after the divorce is over.
When children are part of the divorce equation, it is very important to remember that you and your spouse are not the only ones going through the divorce. Divorce tends to hit children hard. They have no choice in what happens to the family structure, and they have to deal with change and conflict on a regular basis. To minimize the impact divorce has on your children, consider these tips.
1. Minimizing the Impact of Divorce on Kids
While you might be discussing your child’s future in court or with your spouse, don’t make the mistake of not talking directly to your child. He or she might not understand the full scope of what a divorce entails, but your child will be perceptive and curious. If a child’s life is changing in any way, explaining change before it happens to your child can make a big difference in his or her mental well-being. Focus your efforts on how you can help your child understand divorce in a way that is appropriate for his or her age.
2. Don’t Hide the Divorce from Your Child
Your divorce shouldn’t be kept secret from your child. You don’t need to go into the messy details, but your child needs to know what is going on and how it will affect their life. The need to go into detail is also affected by your child’s mental health. If you have an anxious child, you need to be cognizant and considerate that your child will focus on worst-case scenarios. Consider whether your child will struggle with the idea of not seeing one of his or her parents again. Consider whether your child will think that he or she did something wrong resulting in the divorce.
3. The Initial Conversation
Commit to having a conversation with your child about the divorce and what he or she can expect to happen along the way. If you have more than one child, the tone of this conversation will be different for each child depending on his or her age. Consider including the following points during your conversation:
- Talk to your child in a simple and honest way;
- Tell your child the truth unless the truth would be detrimental to their relationship with the other parent;
- Explain any changes that are likely to happen during and at the end of the divorce;
- Tell your child that you love them; and
- Tell your child that their other parent loves them too.
4. Listen to Your Child
Understand that your child will have many questions about the divorce. The best thing you can do as their parent is to listen to all of them. If your child is young, help your child find words and ways to express their true feelings. Create a safe environment so your child isn’t fearful or hesitant about sharing those feelings or telling you the truth.
5. Be Prepared for Many Conversations
Understand that the first conversation will not be the last conversation with your child about the divorce. You won’t be that lucky to have one conversation and then wipe your hands clean of the topic. Instead, you should be prepared for the first conversation to simply be the start of an ongoing conversation. You will need to be proactive and check in with your child every so often to ask how he or she is feeling about the divorce. An open dialogue that reinforces that your child is loved by you and that it will all be ok will go a long way with your child regardless of his or her age.
6. Co-Parenting is Important
Co-parenting can be one of the most difficult things to do during and after a divorce as it forces you to regularly communicate with your former spouse. If you and your ex didn’t always see eye-to-eye on parenting during the marriage, that can be a big source of stress as you move forward post-divorce. Keep focusing on the bigger picture that a healthy co-parenting relationship is best for your child. It may be hard for you to do but it will reduce your child’s stress level and provide your child with a greater sense of security. Talk about living arrangements, and what your child can expect at each household, and ask your child for their opinion.
7. Consider Your Child’s Age
If your child is a teenager, it is important to listen to what your child wants while still deciding what is the best overall custody arrangement for your child. If your child expresses that he or she wants to live with their other parent, that can be very difficult to hear. But, if it’s truly what your child wants, it’s important to listen to and discuss those wishes so you don’t force a relationship that could turn into something resentful. Discuss how your child would want to stay connected to you if he or she was living with the other parent. Discuss if that is the daily living arrangement your child truly wants. Engaging in these difficult conversations with your child will help your child get through the divorce process.
If your child is in grade school or younger, consider whether you are physically capable of exercising the custody schedule you are fighting for. Does your work schedule prevent you from exercising a 50/50 physical custody schedule? Would you have to leave your child with a babysitter for much of the time you are awarded? Is your house stable? Is your employment stable? These are tough questions that need to be answered honestly so you can draft a custody schedule that is in your child’s best interest.
8. Help Your Child Cope
Not all children handle divorce the same way. Even if your child appears to be doing well, don’t assume. Instead, make your child’s life as normal and familiar as possible by:
- Not speaking negatively about the other parent;
- Not forcing your child to choose between Mom and Dad;
- Not exposing your child to arguments between Mom and Dad;
- Keeping your child’s routine in place; and
- Always allowing your child to express how he or she feels.
9. Take Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to take care of yourself throughout the divorce process. As we stated at the beginning of this post, divorce is emotionally draining. Find time for self-care so you have the mental strength you need to provide your child with love, care, and reassurance each day.
Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.