The divorce process is confusing and stressful for all families, but particularly
so for families with young children. It is often difficult for newly separated
parents to determine what kind of long-term parenting arrangement will
be best for their children once each parent has established a separate
In family law cases involving children, the court's primary concern
is with the best interests of the children. This should be your primary
concern as well. Here are some tips that will not only put you in a strong
legal position, but also help you and your spouse co-parent your children
as you navigate the process of establishing separate households:
Minimize chaos and establish a routine.
Recognize that your children are used to a certain routine and environment,
and try your best to maintain that for them as you all adjust to living
in two households. Establish a "new normal" that reflects the
old normal as much as possible.
Every family is different and there is no "standard" or "cookie
cutter" formula for determining the right visitation schedule for
a given family. An experienced family attorney can help you develop a
fair, balanced plan that is both tailored to your kids' needs and
Whether you have an informal or court-ordered schedule for time with your
children, be sure to take that time on a consistent basis. If you absolutely
must miss an opportunity to spend time with your children, be sure to
contact your spouse right away and establish a time to make up for the
Parental consistency and stability for children are also critical concerns
for family law judges and commissioners when making
custody decisions. Failure to follow your schedule for visitation could be harmful to your
case, and is definitely harmful to your children.
Shield your children from conflict.
It's also important that both you and your ex make every effort to
shield your children from information about the divorce, and from parental conflict.
General, age appropriate, explanations of why one parent is no longer living
at home may be appropriate to soothe a child's fears and confusion
about the changes in his or her life, but your kids don't need to
know the details of their parents' adult relationship. Your "side
of the story" should not be shared with your kids.
Absolutely avoid getting into an argument with your spouse in the presence
of your children, and address any grievances you may have with your spouse
directly, privately, and as calmly as possible.
A formal parenting plan with specific provisions governing exchanges of
your children can help you minimize face-to-face contact if you and your
spouse are simply unable to interact without hostility.
Communicate (cautiously) in writing.
Email and text messages are convenient ways to communicate with your spouse
about your goals, concerns, and upcoming plans for your kids. Having a
written record of your dealings with your spouse can reduce confusion
and miscommunications between the two of you. And, communicating primarily
in writing may also help cut back on the conflicts that can arise during
emotional in-person dealings with your ex.
But - think before you click "send." Don't write or publish
anything that you would not want a judge to hear. This also applies to
social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Composing a long rant
about your spouse's many flaws as a partner and parent might make
you feel a little better in the short term, but your words may come back
to haunt you in the long term.
If you are unsure about how to best communicate with your spouse, the advice
of an experienced divorce lawyer can provide you with a strategy for communicating
with your spouse in a productive and effective manner.
Keep your focus on your kids.
If the end of your marriage has been tough on you, just imagine how difficult
it is for your kids. They're worried about you and they're worried
about what is going to happen to them.
Check in with your kids to see how they're feeling. Talk to their teachers,
coaches, and counselors, and work with them to make sure your kids aren't
falling behind in school and other important activities. Try to be 100%
engaged during your one-on-one time, even if you are feeling resentful
or upset about the end of your marriage.
The benefits of continuing to be an involved parent in the midst of a divorce
are intangible and invaluable. Staying focused on your kids' needs
not only strengthens your legal position, it also helps your children
feel secure in an uncertain time.
At McKinley Irvin, our family attorneys have dealt with thousands of family
law matters, and understand that each family has unique needs; we are
prepared to work with you to draft a parenting plan that will fit your family.