Caring for Children During the Custody or Divorce Process
Unfortunately, children may not be able to articulate their feelings during a divorce and custody/parenting time (“visitation”) litigation. One of the main reasons is that they are too young to really put words to their emotions. Another reason, of course, is that they do not want to take sides and risk losing the affection of one of the parents.
As one judge said to two very angry parents, paraphrased:
“It is not your children’s fault that you decided to get a divorce and turn their lives upside down. It is your obligation to make sure that they have as much stability as possible as well as love and attention from you during this painful process.”
Even the best parents are going to forget that the children should come first at all times. We hope that the following recommendations, based on our experience in family law for will be helpful:
- Do not put down or say demeaning things about the other parent in the presence of the children. Try to control family members and friends in this regard.
- Make sure the children understand that it is in no way their fault that the marriage is ending or that there is any conflict.
- Try to maintain as much stability as possible for the children, including staying in the same schools and neighborhoods, maintaining the same extracurricular activities, churchgoing, family traditions, including family reunions, holidays and vacations.
- Always let the other parent know what is going on with the child whether it is medical, legal, economic or educational.
- Do not introduce or expose your children to your new romantic relationships for at least the first year following separation. When you have the children with you, you should focus on them and not on a new person in your life. Further, you may have many “transitional” relationships following separation.
- Never ask the children to intercede in communications with the other parent. They are not to deliver or request child support checks, they are not to give messages to the other parent, they are not to be involved in this type of communication between you and the other parent. Do not “grill” them when they return from spending time with the other parent.
- Learn to communicate with the other parent in a business-like, courteous manner. Leave out editorial and angry remarks from all communications regardless of how much you are provoked.
- Never ask children or allow them to make choices as to where they are going to live and with whom. That is the responsibility of the grown-ups.
- Understand that reconciliation may be off the table for you and your spouse, but may be the secret desire and fantasy of your children.
- Consider individual and/or family therapy and co-parenting classes or therapy.
- Take one or more parenting courses and read books on parenting.
- Do not be tempted to discuss inappropriate adult topics with your children.
- You will need a clear head. If you have issues with alcohol or drugs, deal with it!
- Encourage your children’s relationship with the other parent’s family.
- Do not “buy” your children’s affections to win them to your side or assuage your guilt.
- Remember that the co-parenting relationship does not end when the child emancipates. There will be graduations from college, marriages, birth of grandchildren, funerals, and all the stages that life brings.
- Above all, listen to your children to understand how they are feeling and always let them know how much you love them.