How To Navigate Divorce With Children

According to experts, divorce is the most stressful event that an adult can experience. For most people, divorce is more stressful than losing a job, moving, or even experiencing the death of a friend or relative.

If it is stressful for adults, imagine how stressful it can be for children. For a spouse, the possibility of divorce is always real. But for a child, divorce is unthinkable.

Here are some ideas on how to navigate divorce with children to achieve the best outcome for you and our kids.

Get a Good Lawyer

There is no better suggestion for how to deal with divorce and children than to hire a good family law firm to represent you and your children’s interests. Ideally, both parents will hire lawyers who will work in their children’s interests even if the lawyers cannot agree on anything else.

When deciding issues that involve the children, judges measure everything against the best interests of the child. Under the ‘best interests of the child’ test, a judge can consider almost anything relevant to the child’s interests including:

  • Each parent’s history of involvement with the child
  • The child’s relationships with siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, grandparents, and other relatives
  • Each parent’s resources including time, money, and a place to live
  • Each parent’s health and age might affect their ability to care for the child
  • The child’s interests in having both parents involved
  • The child’s special needs
  • The child’s preferences
  • Any history of abuse or violence in the home

Regardless of the issue, you should choose a lawyer who can present a fair but aggressive case for the child’s best interests. This can be difficult. In the heat of a divorce, you might want to win every argument. But in issues that involve your children, you want to fight for their interests rather than trying to score points.

Get a Fair Custody Arrangement

You need to discuss your rights with your child custody attorney and find a way to reach a fair custody arrangement. If you can come up with a fair custody arrangement, you may be able to negotiate with your spouse to settle that part of the divorce case. Eliminating tough issues like custody is one path for how to deal with divorce and children.

Custody has two parts:

  • Legal custody: Legal custody is the arrangement between the parents for making decisions that affect the child’s life. Legal custody includes such things as healthcare and medical decisions, education decisions, religious decisions, and even the decision to play sports or get a driver’s license. In most cases, the parents will have joint legal custody. This means that both parents will be involved in the important decisions.
  • Physical custody: Physical custody is the child’s living arrangements. In the older parlance, one parent gets custody and the other has visitation. But many states have eliminated this outdated language in favor of defining each parent’s parenting time. For example, under the old phrasing, one parent might get custody during the week and the other parent might get visitation on weekends. Now, one parent has parenting time on weekdays and the other parent has parenting time on weekends. This makes clear that the parent who has the kids on the weekends is not inferior and does not contribute less to their upbringing.

Fight Hard for Temporary Orders

When you commence a divorce case, the judge will enter a series of temporary orders. These orders will control the actions of the spouses until the divorce is complete. For example, a judge might give one spouse possession of the family residence in a temporary order.

Many spouses approach temporary orders too lightly. They feel that since the orders are temporary, they are wasting their money by fighting over them.

This is the wrong approach. Judges are very likely to make their temporary orders into permanent orders at the end of a divorce unless something in the divorce proceeding convinced them that the temporary order was wrong. This means that one of the most important steps for how to deal with divorce and children is to fight for temporary orders that you can live with forever.

For example, getting possession of the family home is a very important factor in getting weekday parenting time. Judges do not want to disrupt the children’s lives. They will usually give weekday parenting time to the parent who gets the family home and can take the children to their usual school. Moreover, judges usually want to minimize the parents’ expenditures during the divorce until their property can be divided. By leaving the children in the family home, the parent with weekend parenting time does not need to buy furniture for children.

Consider Mediation or Collaborative Divorce

Divorce does not need to be heated. And reducing the temperature of a divorce can be an important step for how to deal with divorce and children.

Remember that even if you never see your ex-spouse again after the divorce, your children still have both of their parents. A heated divorce can create hostility that your children will sense. Before fighting over the antique rug and who has to pay the local moving company to move it, consider whether the fight is worth having your children hear you and your ex-spouse’s grudges for the rest of their lives.

Instead, keep your eye on the goal. Divorce lawyers are fond of saying that no happy marriage ends in divorce. Divorce is a solution to a broken marriage. You, your spouse, and your children cannot live in a broken marriage. Living in a toxic environment will do long-lasting damage to everyone involved.

Divorce solves that problem. By going your separate ways, you and your ex-spouse have an opportunity to get on with your lives rather than being stuck in a damaged relationship with irreconcilable differences. Both of you could become better people and, more importantly, better parents by leaving the bad relationship behind.

So, instead of fighting a bitter divorce and dragging out the process to fight over every little detail, consider mediation or collaborative divorce.

  • Mediation: A mediation is a dispute resolution process that is often used in situations where the parties will have an ongoing relationship. Mediation helps both sides air their grievances, but also find a middle ground where they can settle their differences. For example, if you have a family-owned business like a living room furniture store, mediation can often help you figure out a way to divorce while still remaining partners in the business.
  • Collaborative divorce: Collaborative divorce goes a step further. While mediation is usually focused on finding a middle ground where you can cooperate, collaborative divorce actually puts it into writing with a settlement agreement. You might have heard of settlement agreements in other legal settings like lawsuits. A settlement agreement in a divorce works the same way. The spouses work out the terms for the divorce with the assistance of experts hired by both sides. For example, a financial expert, a tax accountant, and a child psychologist might form your collaborative divorce team. They are paid by both spouses and work as neutral experts to explain what creates the most equitable and rational solution for the divorce. After a bit of negotiating by the spouses, the plans are put into a settlement agreement and submitted to the family court judge for approval.

Get Protective Orders, if Necessary

On the other hand, if your marriage involved abuse, threats, or violence, one of your highest priorities for how to deal with divorce and children will be protected. One way to lay the groundwork for this will be to request protective orders when you file the divorce petition.

Protective orders can cover a range of topics for you, your children, and your family including:

  • Preventing your spouse from contacting you
  • Ordering your spouse to stay away from your home or work
  • Stopping your spouse from approaching your children or places your children go, such as school or daycare
  • Protecting your family members, such as parents and siblings, from being harassed by your spouse

While they are not routine, protective orders can be easily obtained in a divorce proceeding. A judge may require you to provide some documentation of the harassment, threats, or violence. But in the age of smartphones, threatening text messages, voicemails, or videos should be sufficient. Also, past police reports for domestic violence or kidnapping will provide a basis for a protective order.

In some states, you can even file a divorce with your address redacted. If you loaded up the packing boxes and moved away from the family home, the court will take care not to disclose your address, so you cannot be found by your spouse during the divorce.

Get Copies of Your Financial Records

Another step in how to deal with divorce and children is to prepare for child support. Child support is not punishment for divorcees. Rather, it is a way for the court to ensure children have sufficient financial resources to meet their needs.

Most states have a formula or schedule for calculating child support. The considerations in calculating child support include:

  • Each parent’s resources: This includes income and assets, offset by expenses and debt. Since the divorce proceeding will divide up the spouses’ property and debt, each parent should get roughly the same amount of marital assets and debt. But the spouses also have property and debt from before the marriage. This could determine which parent pays child support and how much is ordered. For example, if a spouse started a business before the marriage, the value of that business might push that parent into a position of paying child support. Conversely, if one parent needed bankruptcy service before the marriage and has a lot of personal debt, that parent might not be ordered to pay child support.
  • The child’s needs: The court will try to keep the child’s standard of living the same after the divorce as it was during the marriage. In most cases, both parents will contribute to the child’s financial needs. But since one parent will probably have more parenting time than the other, at least during the school year, the parent with fewer caretaking responsibilities will make up the difference by paying child support. This is where a parent could also get offsets in the court’s child support order. One parent will probably have to maintain health insurance for the child and will probably get an offset for that if the premium is deducted from the parent’s paycheck.

Look Into Counseling

You may need help finding how to deal with divorce and children. If your child seems to be taking the divorce particularly hard, you might consider counseling services. Child counselors are trained to identify potential sources of trauma and help children process the trauma instead of coping in negative ways. For example, your child might need counseling if the child is:

  • Angry at one or both parents about the divorce
  • Depressed or suicidal
  • Engaging in antisocial behavior such as criminal activity
  • Developing an eating disorder
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Struggling at school
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Using alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication to cope

Children often lack the tools to cope with emotional trauma, whether that trauma arises from abuse, a divorce, or being adopted from child adoption services. By getting help for your child, you are helping your child develop life-long coping skills that will serve the child through all sorts of trauma. By addressing the problem early, you may be avoiding later problems.

There is no single approach for how to deal with divorce and children. But preparation before the divorce, planning for collaboration when possible, and protecting your children when collaboration is impossible will provide a good start. Do not be afraid to ask for help from a good divorce attorney and child counselor.

Finally, keep in mind that divorce is a solution for a broken marriage. This idea will put you and your children in the right frame of mind when approaching a divorce.