Seven Steps to Protect Your Children During Divorce
Although we are lawyers, not psychologists or social workers, we see children caught in the crossfire of divorce all too often. Happily, not all of the divorces we see are like that…some of the parents that we have dealt with have worked hard together to create an environment of safety and protection for their children, even when circumstances between them were quite dire. You and your spouse have a choice from the first day of your separation until the last day the children are unemancipated minors….are you going to protect them or expose them to harm? Are you going to confuse what’s right for you with what’s right for them, or recognize that they have their own unique needs and desires?
We try to encourage solutions to family law problems that consider the interests of the children. Below are a few steps to protecting your children in divorce.
1. Don’t put them in the middle. Don’t use your children to spy on your ex and find out who they are dating. Don’t tell them information about the divorce or all the things Mommy did wrong. Don’t involve them in the financial aspects of the divorce or pass messages to your spouse like “Ask Daddy why he won’t pay for your day care.” The number one thing they need to know is that they are still loved and that what is going on with Mom and Dad is not their fault. Keep other details to yourself.
2. Don’t ignore abuse, but don’t manufacture it either. Especially if there is domestic violence in your relationship, watch closely for abuse to manifest with the children as well. Although it often does not happen that way, it is important to keep a close eye out for any signs that your children’s visitations with Mom or Dad are becoming dangerous. However, always be careful to seek professional help if you suspect something, rather than risk putting thoughts into children’s heads that aren’t truth. Children internalize the fears and expectations that you have, and they want to please you. In trying to protect them from trauma, don’t traumatize them.
3. Think about their best interests above your own. If it is in their best interests to have more parenting time with your ex, then let them have it even if that is hard for you or reduces your child support amount. If it is in their best interests to have only short visits with you because you have not been a big part of their life before, let it happen that way. They are going through a lot already, try to make this transition as easy as possible for them.
4. Don’t undermine each other’s parenting. You may not agree with all the parenting choices of your ex, but keep that a private discussion between you. Also, pick your battles. Even parents that are still together don’t always agree, but if it isn’t something you’d think worth arguing over if you were still married, it probably isn’t worth it now. For example, does it really matter if the kids stay up until 9:30 instead of 8:30 when they are at Dad’s? Does it really matter if Mom wants the kids in soccer and you want them in gymnastics? Decide what is worth fighting for, and make sure the answer to that isn’t “everything”.
5. Don’t introduce new relationships right away. If you have a new girlfriend or boyfriend, good for you! Moving on can be very healthy for adults. But for the children, it can be confusing. Wait until you have determined the relationship has real staying power before introducing the children to the new relationship, and then begin slowly.
6. Spin things to the positive. Instead of focusing on the sadness of having the holidays apart, focus on the positive of getting two great holiday experiences. Instead of dwelling on the grief of the divorce, create new traditions and experiences for enjoying life with your children alone. Try to maintain your sense of humor. Your children will know they are safe if they see you behaving rationally and lovingly while demonstrating a positive attitude.
7. Hire lawyers who are sensitive to your children’s needs. Some lawyers will recommend courses of actions to their clients that have dreadful consequences to children. Sometimes this is simply because they do not consider the children’s interests in the course of the representation. We believe in advising you as a client to do things that you won’t regret six months or a year from now when the anger has faded…and that includes advising you to make decisions that you will be proud of as a parent for years to come. This does not mean that we do not aggressively advocate for your positions…we do! But when we advise you we consider the long term consequences of any action, and help you come to positions that make sense for you into the future.
For your free, confidential consultation, call us today at 856-227-7888.