The holidays are over and you have reached the decision to separate and get a divorce. Although you cannot actually file for a divorce until after you have been separated for over a year, couples might be more likely to separate in January than in other months.
If the day has finally come that you and your spouse need to call it quits, you might be wondering what to do next.
- Should I move out of the house? (read the previous blog post here)
- How do I handle my finances while we are separated? (read the previous blog post here)
- How do I manage custody of the children, including being able to visit them if I leave?
These kinds of questions are common for people who decide to separate or divorce. Since ending your marriage is complicated, it is important that you address all the questions you have right from the start. By taking a few steps to prepare for your separation, you may not only find the answers to these questions, but you might realize there are other issues you never even dreamed of.
Today, we are going to focus on considering your children and how to make things less impactful for them and you.
Helping children through a divorce
As you go through a separation or divorce, you are likely worried about how your children are going to deal with the situation. It is important to remember that children will process your separation or divorce differently than you and they may have difficulty expressing their emotions. It is highly recommended that you engage or consult with a child therapist for your children and follow the therapist’s advice on how to best explain your decision to separate or divorce.
Regardless, there are several ways that you can help your kids cope with divorce.
Be prepared to have multiple conversations about the breakup with the children. After the first conversation, kids may need time to process their thoughts and feelings. If the children do not bring up any questions or concerns, you should check in occasionally to gauge their true feelings.
It is natural for kids to worry about contributing to the divorce, so you should alleviate their fears. This includes letting them know that the divorce or separation is not their fault, that both parents love them unconditionally and will still be involved in their lives.
It may not be easy, but you should make an effort to respect your spouse in front of the kids. Any negative comments or arguments in front of the children only add stress and anxiety to their lives in an already difficult time. If problems do arise, parents should discuss them when the kids are not around.
Flexibility is important while everyone is adjusting to a new family dynamic. You and your spouse should try to maintain a stable environment for the children but also be understanding if things occasionally go wrong. It will take time for everyone to adapt to a different schedule and way of doing things.
Based on the age of the children and your circumstances you may be able to work out child custody without having to go to court. Avoiding litigation can save them time and money. Regardless, you should still consult with an attorney to discuss the enforceability and legality of any arrangement you would like to make.
Visitation schedules that meet family needs
Your goal should be to best set up a child custody or visitation schedule that meets the needs of you, your spouse and the children. While child custody may be one of the most contentious issues, a clear visitation schedule can help to ease the road ahead for the entire family. In determining a visitation schedule concerning the children, there is no set “formula.” Rather, there are some particularly common arrangements for visitation, but in all cases, the children’s “best interests” are the most important.
Some Common Visitation Schedules:
- Alternating Weekends: One of the most common visitation schedules has the child spend every other weekend at the non-custodial parent’s home. This time could begin on Friday evening after school and end on Sunday evening. This kind of schedule can work best for parents with a typical Monday-through-Friday work schedule and can also accommodate former spouses who live some distance apart from one another.
- Alternating Weeks: Under this scenario, the parents alternate having the children one week at a time. Such a schedule is usually suited more for younger children and when both parents have been heavily involved in child-rearing.
- 9/5: This visitation schedule has the children with one parent for nine days and then with the other parent for five days. Like the Alternating Weeks schedule, this schedule works better with younger children as they may not have as many outside activities or diverse friends at a younger age.
Creating rules for two homes after a divorce
One of the challenges families face is dealing with two different sets of house rules. While this may not seem like a big deal, having different standards in each home can be confusing for children.
After a divorce, children need order and constancy. A unified set of rules for both houses can help accomplish this. One parent might be sterner in some instances, but it is better to have the same rules in both houses anyway if at all possible. Otherwise, it may be more difficult for children to adjust when they are allowed leeway in one household but not the other.
If parents are having trouble agreeing on bedtimes, chores, proper manners and more, a parenting class or mediation might be helpful. Parenting workshops teach parents to compromise, offer child rearing norms and provide examples to demonstrate the importance of a cohesive set of rules. A mediator can also help parents reach a compromise by facilitating communication and trying to help parents reach a solution that benefits all parties.
While it can be hard to deal with an ex, parents must set aside differences for the good of the children. This is typically necessary when making a child custody arrangement. It is important to remember that children usually benefit from a relationship with both parents.
Tips for co-parenting with a difficult former spouse
Co-parenting is not always easy and might be a struggle with your former spouse. But the the most important thing a parent can do is remember to keep the focus on the child and keep their “best interest” at the forefront. Remembering that the child’s well-being is what matters may help in navigating the relationship with the other parent. Consider a few tips:
- Limit any communications with the other parent to matters involving the child.
- Avoid getting drawn into old arguments about other topics.
- Try to set firm boundaries for the ex-spouse around personal issues, if necessary.
- Avoid saying negative things about the other parent in front of the child. This can cause the child to feel unable to share honest emotions.
- Encourage the relationship between the other parent and the child.
- Consider taking note of what types of things upset the other parent so those things can be avoided or at least anticipated.
After the initial turmoil of separation and divorce, parents may find that the conflict recedes, which may result in happier, more well-adjusted children.
‘Birdnesting’ or “Nesting”- an innovative approach to joint custody
There are a number of unique custody options that people can consider, including joint or shared custody. One alternative type of shared custody option is called “birdnesting.” It means that the kids remain in the family home while each parent moves out on a rotating basis.
However, “birdnesting” is usually a short-term, transitional solution that is best suited for parents seeking an amicable divorce. And Judges do not seem to favor such arrangements. When divorcing spouses are regularly arguing, those arguments are likely to continue rather than end during the nesting process. For these families, a traditional joint child custody arrangement may be more suitable. Even for parents with strong communication and a positive relationship, nesting is typically done for a short period of time. If it is done for too long, however, it could encourage false ideas that the parents may reconcile in the future.
Parents who are going through divorce may initially find that navigating the framework of child custody and visitation can be confusing and emotional. Child custody can either be decided by parents or by a judge. While in a high-conflict divorce, a parent might feel that sitting down and negotiating with the other parent is too difficult, doing so allows parents to control the negotiation and gives them the opportunity to reach a decision they may be happier with than that of a judge. Parents may also choose to have their respective attorneys do the negotiating. While custody can be an emotional issue, parents should try to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child.
A family law attorney may provide advice and representation throughout the process to help a divorcing parent protect their relationship with their children and achieve a fair settlement on an array of divorce matters, including child custody, spousal support and property division.
Thinking of separating from your spouse and starting the divorce process, let us help you through this difficult time. Call us today at 704-333-9900.