Part 2: Prior to Divorce
Considerations Prior to Filing for Dissolution of Marriage
Dissolving your marriage is one of the biggest emotional and financial decisions in a person's life. It will affect your home, finances, and children well into the future. Although it may be difficult to focus on your upcoming divorce, you will be far better off in the long-run if you carefully plan for this major event. This section suggests some initial considerations before you file your petition for dissolution of marriage. Most of this advice also applies to people who suspect that their husband or wife may be planning to file for dissolution of marriage.
Recognize That Divorce Changes Everything
How will divorce change your life?
The first part of the divorce process should be to contemplate and accept how ending your marriage will change you and your family. There are several things that may happen between now and the time your divorce decree is entered and your case is final:
- You may need to change where you live and modify how you run your household.
- Your children may need to change residences and/or change schools. You may have less income, savings, retirement assets, and property.
- It is likely you will have to change your spending habits given the potential reduction in income, and the likelihood that one family will now be living in two separate households (with two sets of household expenses).
- You may see your children less frequently, or you may have to parent on your own day-to-day.
- You may have to deal with a variety of emotions and stress during this time.
- Your relationships with others, especially shared friends or in-laws, may change.
That said, divorce can be a beneficial transition, especially after the dissolution is finalized. With the right resources, Washington legal counsel, and a resilient attitude, you and your kids can be even stronger after divorce.
You can save yourself time and money down the line if you get organized at the beginning of your case. Be your own detective and document everything pertinent to your financial, marital, and parenting life. You and your lawyer will need this information later, and having it organized and accessible early helps you stay informed and in control of the situation as the information and documentation becomes necessary.
- Get a three-ring binder, filing system, or protected email account to document your divorce. You may consider having separate folders or tabs for financial information, things to discuss with your family law attorney, documents and resources related to the children, a calendar of appointments, a to-do list, and legal advice.
- Be aware of your credit score—and your spouse's. Obtain credit reports from all three reporting agencies and review them for accuracy. Monitor credit activity throughout the dissolution process.
- Copy or scan relevant documents and store them in a safe place outside your home. This should include documents pertaining to your taxes, financial accounts, savings, investments, etc.
- Locate where your passport (know where your children's passports are as well).
- Keep a list of the locations (and where keys are kept) for your files of safe-deposit boxes, and offsite storage units.
- Take some time to think about your parenting. Then write down how you would describe your parenting to a stranger. Think about your spouse's parenting. Write down how you would describe their parenting as well. Include in your descriptions how much time you and your spouse each see your children. Who makes their meals, delivers them to school, and performs the bedtime routine? Has your spouse ever cared for your children alone for significant amounts of time? Have you? Does your spouse know the names of your children's teachers, coaches, daycare providers, and doctors? Do you? Who takes your children to appointments or practices? Do your children have any special needs or disabilities? Who attends their therapies? Who attends parent-teacher conferences? In addition to the general descriptions described above, document and detail who performs these daily parenting responsibilities in a daily journal.
- List any past occurrences of possible domestic violence, whether it involves you or your children. If the police were called to your home, obtain any police reports documenting the incident. If someone sustained injuries and was treated, obtain any doctors' reports. Keep records of any further abuse or neglect in your daily journal.
- Make a list of your human resources. Professionals, such as your tax professional or children's teacher, might have useful information for your divorce. Others, such as your friends, family members, clergy, or counselor, might simply provide emotional support.
- Monitor your monthly account statements more carefully, and keep track of any significant changes in your family's spending, income, or account balances.
Understand Your Financial Situation
The more you can discover now about your family's finances, the more you will likely save in time, legal fees, and possible lost opportunities during your Washington divorce case. Utilizing the organization system from the previous section, learn everything you can about your money and assets. Photocopy or scan all relevant documents. Be cautious about discussing your plans with your tax professional or stockbroker at this point, as he or she can also communicate with your spouse and may inadvertently let slip your intention to end your marriage. Maintain your tax and other asset records offsite and away from the family residence.
- KNOW YOUR DEBTS. Especially after reviewing your credit reports, list your individual debts, your spouse's, and those you own jointly. Are there any close to being paid off? Make copies of relevant documents, including mortgage documents and credit cards statements.
- KNOW YOUR ASSETS. Create a list of banks, stockbrokers, and other places where you or your spouse have accounts, including account numbers and approximate values. Include accounts created in your children's names, such as trust or college accounts. List retirement accounts. List all real property, with values. List vehicles, with values. List significant personal property, such as art or jewelry, and their values. Make your best guess as to whether each asset is owned by both or only one of you. Copy your latest account statements and check registers. Inventory your safe deposit boxes and offsite storage lockers and take date stamped pictures of contents.
- KNOW YOUR FUTURE ASSETS. Do you or your spouse own stock options? When do they vest? What is their strike price? Are either of you anticipating an inheritance or trust account payment? Copy your own and your spouse's annual social security statement, or obtain new ones from your local social security office (or online).
- KNOW YOUR AND YOUR SPOUSE'S INCOME. How much do you earn per year? Are you compensated in addition to your salary (ex. commissions, bonuses or deferred compensation)? How much does your spouse earn each year? Is your spouse compensated in addition to his or her salary? If one of you is unemployed or underemployed, how much do you think the unemployed or underemployed person could earn if they worked full-time? Do either of you need school training, credentials, or licensing to improve employment opportunities? If either spouse is self-employed, what are some accounting documents that can help determine the amount that spouse earns and their business expenses?
- KNOW YOUR INSURANCE. Copy your health, dental, vision, life, boat, automobile, and homeowner's policies.
- KNOW YOUR TAXES. Make copies of the last few years' tax returns, including schedules and supporting documents, W-2's, 1099's, etc.
- KNOW YOUR VITAL STATISTICS. Make copies of your marriage license, social security cards, birth certificates, and passports, if any. Also make copies of your children's social security cards, birth certificates, and passports, if any.
- KNOW YOUR CURRENT HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES. How much do you really spend on your expenses each month? Include annual or quarterly expenses as well as monthly ones.
- ESTIMATE YOUR FUTURE HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES. What is the minimum you need to support yourself and your children?
Consult a Washington Divorce Lawyer
It is important that you consult with a Washington divorce attorney prior to initiating the dissolution process. At your initial meeting, the divorce attorney will likely explain his or her experience with cases like yours in Washington. The attorney will provide some insight about potential problem areas, as well as areas that may be more easily resolved. The attorney will also advise you about the general process of divorce in Washington, and suggest what you should do first to start your dissolution on the right track. The attorney may provide a rough estimate for how long your Washington divorce will take, how much you can anticipate spending, and how to begin working together. During and after your consultation, take notes on how you liked the Washington attorney and whether your attorney made it possible for you to understand his or her advice.
What should I bring to an initial consultation?
Schedule an introductory appointment with a Washington divorce attorney and bring the information you have gathered so far. Be sure that all documents you bring are well-organized so you don't waste your appointment shuffling through papers. Include a list of your questions and a short (one-page) summary of your situation. Include the following information:
- You and your spouse's names;
- Your ages;
- Length of your marriage;
- Whether you have ever been separated from your spouse, and whether there are separation or prenuptial agreements;
- You and your spouse's professions and incomes (if one of you is unemployed, list when he or she was last employed and include income and employer at that time);
- If you have children include their ages, and whether you or your spouse are pregnant now (include any stepchildren);
- Whether you or your spouse are engaged in extramarital affairs, especially if you have children (this is irrelevant to whether you can get divorced but may affect how a court allocates custody or parenting time);
- Whether either of you are in the military; and
- Whether there has been any domestic violence, or if you fear for you or your children's safety.
Can I interview several Washington divorce attorneys?
Yes. You can interview as many attorneys as you want to. You should feel comfortable with the attorney's ability to represent you. Do not worry about meeting with and providing your information to multiple attorneys. Each attorney you consult with is thereafter unable to represent your spouse.
Does divorce have to be a mean fight?
Whether divorce is a mean fight or an amicable resolution is up to you and your spouse. You are probably the best predictor of how contentious your divorce will get. Think about how aggressive you and your spouse are likely to be in divorce litigation. Can you afford (in emotions, time, and money) an all-out court battle? Would you or your spouse consider mediation, or collaborative or cooperative divorce (described in Part One of this Guide)? Advise your Washington divorce attorney of what type of behavior you expect from yourself, and your spouse. Based on the anticipated behavior, you and your attorney can decide whether to propose mediation or arbitration to resolve some, or all, of your divorce issues.
Can I divorce without an attorney in Washington?
You can divorce without an attorney in Washington, but be aware that an unrepresented divorce can end up costing you more in the long run. You may think that filing for divorce without a family lawyer will save you money, but that is very unlikely. A Washington family law attorney can help protect rights and benefits you might not know exist. Your divorce attorney can also help you plan for potential changes in your life after divorce. For more information, see "Why There Is No Such Thing as a Free Divorce" in Part One of this Guide.
Protect Your Assets
Many people think that the best way to protect their assets is to hide them from their spouse. While this is sometimes understandable behavior in a fast-unraveling marriage, you should be aware that it can have negative consequences. If your case goes to trial, or even if there is any court hearing, the court will likely review financial documents and may notice your assets being funneled into a different account. The commissioners and/or judges in your case may feel that you took the money as an aggressive action to hurt your spouse instead of an action to protect yourself. Another potential consequence of moving money around is that it may alert your spouse to your intention of ending the marriage.
There are court actions that are available if you think your spouse may try and steal some of your family's money and hide it. Discuss your options with a Washington divorce attorney.
Can I take all or half of our money, before divorce?
In most cases, you can take up to half of the money from your joint accounts. There is an exception to this rule if you taking half the money would not leave enough in the account to make upcoming payments on joint debts, such as the mortgage or household expenses.
Am I allowed to stop paying household bills after I move out?
In most cases, no. Until your divorce is final, or you have a final separation agreement, you should continue to pay your joint debts and maintain the status quo.
Will I be able to keep my income separate?
Maybe. If you and your spouse both work, and household expenses are paid from a joint account, then it would probably be fine for you to have your income paid into a separate account (as long as you still put your portion of the money necessary to pay household bills into the joint account). However, if you are the sole breadwinner in the family, at least half of your income should be put into the joint account. If the case goes to trial, the court would probably not like to see the sole breadwinner leave the other spouse with no access to funds. If you and your spouse have always kept separate accounts, then you can continue the status quo.
Can I change our property into just my name?
Not without your spouse's consent. In cases where consent is obtained, that is not necessarily enough to ensure that you will keep title to that property when your divorce is finalized. The court can still decide to award the property to either spouse, especially if title changed shortly before your divorce.
Will I be able to get separate credit cards?
Yes, you can and should have a credit card in your name only. Your spouse may be able to close joint credit accounts, and you will want to have a separate source of credit. Please note, if your case has a hearing or goes to trial, it is likely the court will want to see statements from your credit card. Please note, just because you open a credit card in your name only does not mean you should dramatically change your spending habits while the divorce is pending. If the court sees a dramatic change they may infer something about you and your ability to pay substantial credit card bills.
Am I allowed to bring my possessions with me when I move out?
Maybe. If you are the one moving to a new home, you can probably take some of the shared jointly-owned household property. But, be considerate of leaving your children or spouse in an inhospitable situation. The court will not look fondly on a parent leaving the house his or her children still resides in with the majority of the furniture. Furthermore, just because the property comes with you at the time you leave the marital home does not mean it will be yours at the time of divorce. That might mean moving heavy furniture twice within a relatively small timeframe. If there is property that is your separate property, especially sentimental items such as pre-marriage photographs and memorabilia it is probably okay for you to take them with you. In any event, keep track of what you take because you will to disclose these items later. It is also smart to keep track of what items you leave behind prior to actually leaving the house (take pictures if possible), because it may become difficult to remember what you had after you have left the home.
Will I be able to buy new possessions with joint money?
Maybe, if you do purchase new possessions they should be small and not outside of your family's usual spending habits. If your case goes before a court you will likely have to account for the spending you did around the time of separation and a family law judge will not appreciate one spouse's overspending right before or after the petition for dissolution is filed.
Am I allowed to hide assets or lie about finances?
No. Hiding assets or income may incur severe penalties in the dissolution process. If you have questions about what to disclose to the other party and their attorney or how to answer the other party's inquiries, you should discuss these concerns with your lawyer.
Will I be able to protect my accounts or assets from my spouse taking them?
Yes. If your spouse tries to sell your jointly-titled property you can protect yourself by recording a "lis pendens" (suit pending) with your county recorder informing potential buyers of your interest in the property. Your spouse has no legal right to your separate property and is unable to take that, and there is likely no practical way to take money in your separate accounts. When your petition for dissolution is filed the court may enter a restraining order against either spouse prohibiting the taking or using of joint money or joint assets without court approval.
Consider Cancelling Joint Credit Cards and Debts
Parties that continue holding joint credit card accounts run the risk of one spouse running up the credit card balance and the other spouse being held responsible for the resulting debt. It is especially important to avoid this problem before and during the divorce when spouses may be acting irrationally. Accordingly, it is a good idea to limit this kind of financial risk. Cancel joint credit cards if possible. You will probably want to advise your spouse that you will be canceling the joint card, and he or she should get a credit card account of their own. Obtaining a new credit card in your name only is advisable in case you will need to access credit during and after your Washington divorce.
Review Any Prenuptial, Community Property, and Separation Agreements
Washington law permits a couple to create a prenuptial agreement. These agreements allow the soon-to-be married couple to decide how assets and spousal maintenance should be handled if the marriage ends in divorce.
Married couples may also make a similar type of agreement. If couples want to create an agreement determining the character of property, Washington allows them to sign a community property agreement.
Separated (not the legal process described above, but couples who have decided to end their marriage but have not completed the process) couples also have the ability to decide how property and debts should be characterized and divided. The agreement separated couples can make is known as a property settlement agreement or separation contract.
If you have any of these types of agreements, you will want to review them with your Washington divorce attorney before filing for divorce. Bring your signed agreement to your initial consultation with a family law attorney. Of course, you should also consult with your own independent Washington attorney before signing any of these types of agreements.
When are prenuptial agreements valid in a divorce case?
Generally, to be valid in Washington, the prenuptial agreement must be fair and transparent. It is more likely that an agreement will be enforced if it makes an equitable distribution of the assets and debts, and the parties have honestly and completely disclosed their assets and debts. In addition, the agreement must be in writing, and both spouses must have entered into the agreement voluntarily.
Finally, the terms of the agreement must be upheld during the entire marriage for the agreement to be enforceable in a divorce in Washington. For example, a prenuptial agreement might state that the marital home will go to one particular spouse so long as that spouse pays the mortgage payments directly from his or her income. If the couple later deposits both of their paychecks into a joint account and pays the mortgage from that account, that term of the prenuptial agreement may be held unenforceable.
Can a prenuptial, community property or separation agreement waive child support?
Pursuant to federal law, these agreements are not allowed to reduce or eliminate child support. However, it is permissible to agree to more child support than would be required by Washington law.
Obtain a Protection Order if You Were Abused
Prior to your divorced being filed in Washington, a court can enter a domestic violence protection order to assist you. If your spouse physically abused or assaulted you, or if your spouse has threatened you with bodily injury or harm, you may qualify for an order of protection. This order can limit your spouse's contact with you and/or order your spouse to leave your home. You can also seek protection for your children with a domestic violence order of protection. The abuse can be physical injury, an attempt at physical injury, a threat, forced sex, or stalking. (Emotional abuse, property damage, or threats to take your children may not be enough.) You also need to provide evidence (typically in the form of a sworn statement) that you are in fear of imminent bodily injury. This type of order is temporary (up to one year). Obtaining a protection order is free in Washington, and most Washington counties have domestic violence advocacy programs and advocates to help you through the process. There are also other options for people dealing with violence in the family home both prior to, during, and after marriage. Speak with a Washington family law attorney or domestic violence advocate if you fear for you or your children's physical safety.
Decide Which Spouse Should Move Out
People planning to end their marriage are often unsure of which spouse should leave the family home. Before you leave the home, consider the following issues:
- WHICH SPOUSE OWNS THE HOME? If the deed is in both of your names, then you both have a legal right to live in the home. However, either of you may ask for a temporary court order requiring the other to leave, especially if you are in conflict. If one spouse owns the home as their separate property, that spouse may ask the other to vacate the home. The owner-spouse may also change the locks, if needed. The non-owner may be able to obtain a temporary court order allowing the non-owner to stay for a short period.
- DO YOU WANT THE HOME? Often, the spouse residing in the marital home when the divorce is finalized will be allowed to "buy out" the other person's share of the house equity. If the spouses do not want the home, or neither spouse can afford the home, then usually the home is sold and the proceeds or remaining debt will be divided equitably.
- WHICH SPOUSE IS LISTED ON THE MORTGAGE? Your mortgage company will not be a party to your divorce and is legally allowed to collect the mortgage debt from anyone listed on the mortgage, whether or not that spouse still lives in the home. If your name is listed on the mortgage, you may be held responsible for your mortgage payments, no matter where you are living. You may try refinancing, but a divorce court usually will not require refinancing. Sometimes refinancing can be difficult because one spouse will not qualify for a refinance without the other party. It is worth noting that spousal maintenance will usually not be counted as income for purposes of a refinance until it has been consistently paid for a period of time.
- ARE THERE MINOR CHILDREN INVOLVED? Generally, a move by either parent should not restrict the other parent's ability to see the children. Leaving the family home, however, may have consequences regarding the custody of the children. If you have children, you should consult a qualified Washington family law attorney before moving out.
- DO YOU HOPE FOR YOUR CHILDREN TO SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME WITH YOU AFTER THE DIVORCE? If you hope to be the primary residential parent, it may be advisable for you to remain in the family home. Washington courts often allow the parent with whom the children reside the majority of the time to live in the marital home until the children are grown, if it is economically feasible for that parent to do so. If you move away from where your children reside, you are taking a risk that the court will find your children's other parent to be the "primary caretaker" and name him or her as the primary residential parent. There is also a risk of the other parent being named primary residential parent if you take the children and move them away from your spouse, and this negatively impacts their relationship with the other parent.
- CAN YOU AFFORD TWO RESIDENCES? When one spouse's move leaves the other spouse with insufficient income to pay household bills, the Washington court can enter a temporary order requiring one spouse to assist the other spouse in paying household bills during the dissolution process. Spouses without adequate funds may try to proceed with the divorce while still living in the same home. This can be complicated, emotionally and legally, especially if there is conflict. You should definitely not continue living together if there is any abuse. Discuss with your Washington divorce attorney your best options for living arrangements.
- DO YOU INTEND TO MOVE FAR AWAY? If you have minor children, you should be especially cautious of moving a great distance away with them. The Washington courts may require the moving parent to pay all travel expenses for the children to visit regularly with the other parent. The court may also refuse to allow the children to move with you if you cannot show that the move will be in the children's best interest.
- HAS YOUR PETITION FOR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE BEEN FILED? Moving to a different county in Washington may affect where your divorce can be filed. If the dissolution process has already been initiated, then the case will probably continue in the county where it was filed, and you will need to return to that county for court hearings (including any post-divorce hearings related to your children).
Do Not Take the Children
Prior to the divorce process, you or your spouse can take your children and visit somewhere for a short time, with or without your spouse's consent. Technically, you are not yet prohibited by Washington law from moving somewhere away from your spouse with your children.
However, after you have filed a petition be extremely cautious about moving or even traveling with your children if that reduces their time with your spouse. If you end up in court, the commissioner or judge may not appreciate you denying your children regular visits with their other parent and may find that you are not acting in your children's best interests by doing so. This finding may cause the court to rule against you in a custody decision.
After your divorce is final, under Washington's relocation statutes, you will be prohibited from moving with your children outside of their school district without your former spouse's permission or a court order.
Make Your Children Your Priority
How can I help my children prior to my divorce?
Whenever possible separate your feelings about your husband or wife as a spouse from your feelings about them as a parent. Do not use your children to punish your spouse. Not only is this best for your children, it will likely help you when the court is determining custody. If you are hoping to be named primary residential parent, you will need to show the Washington court that you consistently act in your children's best interests and that may include facilitating your children's relationship with your spouse even after the divorce is final.
Provide your children your full attention before and during divorce. Your children may have questions and fears as they observe the dissolution process, especially if they witness parental conflict. While you may feel distracted by the dissolution process, support your children by being attentive and present in their lives. Also, try not to discuss the pending dissolution with your spouse in front of your children.
Maintain your children's routines as much as possible, especially after separation from your spouse. Reassure your children that both of their parents love them and will continue to be in their lives. Your Washington divorce attorney will be able to provide you with recommendations for resources that may help your children throughout the divorce process. You can also seek out resources yourself at the local library, or online. Acting in your children's best interests despite the stress and emotion of divorce will help your kids and demonstrate to Washington courts that you may be the parent best able to do so after the divorce is finalized.
Should I modify my parenting style?
If you have not taken an active parenting role before, you may want to do so now. This is especially true if you want the Washington divorce court to award you substantial parenting time. Learn more about your children's daily routines and develop relationships with their caregivers and teachers. This will help you during the dissolution process if custody is disputed and the judge needs information regarding your parenting abilities. It will also prepare you to engage with your children as a single parent. Again, there are numerous guidebooks about single parenting. Your children will need added reassurance and more attention as the uncertainty of divorce can be stressful for them. Reassuring them that you will continue to be a significant presence in their life will be beneficial for you and your kids.
Consider Whether, When, and What to Tell Your Spouse
Do I have to tell my spouse that I am planning to file for divorce?
No. Technically, you can wait until your spouse is served with divorce papers and have the papers do the telling. However, in most cases (excluding those involving abuse) it is best to give your spouse some warning that you are planning to file. Although your behavior towards your spouse isn't strictly relevant to the Washington court's divorce decisions, it could affect how your spouse responds. It could make your spouse less amenable to mediation, arbitration and other negotiation of your divorce issues. It could also impact how a judge views your character if your case ends up in court. The Washington family court judge may hear the details of your surprise filing and service and feel that you have a poor character or have acted unfairly. This may affect the court's rulings in matters such as spousal support, where the judge may consider "any factors the court deems just and equitable."
When is the right time to tell my spouse?
It is best to tell your husband or wife you want a divorce after you have protected and prepared yourself by interviewing and hiring a Washington divorce attorney, organizing your financial and other information, and planned how you will live once you are separated from your spouse.
When you do tell your spouse that you plan to divorce, there are some common mistakes that should be avoided:
- Tell your spouse before he or she hears it from someone else. This can help you avoid an unexpected confrontation and unnecessary embarrassment.
- Only tell your spouse after you are sure you want a divorce. If you want to discuss the future of your marriage, but you are uncertain you want a divorce, don't use the word divorce. The word alone could trigger actions or legal moves by your spouse that you may not be prepared for.
- Do not threaten to use your children against your spouse. Threatening to take your children or turn them against your spouse could negatively affect your legal position should your case go before a Washington court.
- Do not discuss who is to blame, or start an argument. Make this a conversation that alerts your spouse to your intention to file or serve them only. There will be time later to discuss parenting, property division, etc. Allow time for both of you to process the reality of your situation before engaging in an argument that could lead to unnecessary, time-consuming, and expensive litigation.
- Keep the conversation on topic, and don't say anything that later can be held against you. For example, don't say anything negative about your own or your spouse's parenting and don't offer to give your spouse anything or promise any future property/debt awards/divisions. Instead, tell them you are planning to or have already filed, and leave it at that.
- Avoid treating your spouse with disrespect. At this early stage, you cannot expect cooperation or understanding. Treating your spouse respectfully now can set a more cooperative tone for what is to come.
Consider When and What to Tell Your Children About Divorce
When is the best time to tell my kids?
Your children should not be told until you know for sure that you will divorce. Be sure to tell them when your spouse already knows, and when you can tell the children calmly. Your children should hear this information from you and/or your spouse. As you tell your children, think about both your instinctive caring for your children, and your ability to show the Washington divorce court that you consistently act with your children's best interests in mind. Acting in your children's "best interests" includes facilitating and encouraging your children to have positive relationships with your spouse, regardless of the quality of the feelings you have for your spouse.
What should I say to my children about divorce?
Experts (and your mandatory Washington pre-divorce parenting class) will likely tell you the following information about your children and divorce:
- Begin the conversation with a plan of what you will say. Bring notes if that helps.
- If possible, you and your spouse should tell your children together. This shows your children that you are united in caring for them and that they do not have to take sides.
- Make it clear that the divorce is only between the adults and that nobody is divorcing the children.
- It is unlikely that it will be in your children's best interest to learn the reasons for the divorce. It is best simply to defer the question and say that it is an adult issue, or to say that "mommy and daddy couldn't live together anymore." This gives your children "permission" to continue loving both of you instead of taking sides against the parent that presumably caused the divorce.
- Do not say bad things about your spouse. Remember that no matter what happens in your marriage, your spouse is your child's parent and disrespecting your spouse is disrespecting someone very important to your children.
- Tell your children that divorce makes you a little sad, but do not explain all of your emotions, fears and anxieties. Your children should not be put into a role of caretaker as that is age inappropriate and not in their best interests.
- Be honest with your children and make them aware that some things in their lives will change after the divorce, such as where both parents live, their home part of the time, and perhaps their school. If you already know specific changes that will occur, tell them. Then tell them all the things that will not change after divorce, such as parental love, siblings, friends, and pets. Children benefit by hearing concrete details and being reassured of family consistency.
- Be prepared to say the same things again and again with patience and compassion. Children, especially young ones, will ask many follow-up questions and need answers repeated. This is part of how they process the information. Be as receptive and reassuring as possible.
- Be prepared for and tolerant of your children's response to this news including possible emotional outbursts, behavioral changes, and confused loyalties as they process their emotions.
- Consider telling your children's caretakers and teachers, even before the divorce is filed. This can be done simply: "My spouse and I will be ending our marriage. Please contact me if you observe my child having any behavioral or emotional issues that may be related to this." Be careful in these communications to focus on your children's welfare rather than seeking to gain sympathy or loyalty from your children's teachers and caretakers.
Manage Your Stress
Divorce is stressful. Self-care is important for wise management of your Washington divorce case. No matter how overwhelmed and sad you may feel, take care of your greatest resource: yourself.
Excessive stress can cause you to be disorganized or forgetful of facts that your Washington divorce attorney needs to be aware of. Stress may cause you to act out toward your spouse, or be disrespectful regarding your spouse in your children's presence. Excessive stress may cause you to appear agitated, angry or despondent before a custody evaluator or Washington family court. This may impact their recommendations or decisions regarding parenting. Do not let your stress level jeopardize your children's welfare, your case, and your future.
If you find yourself unable to manage your stress level, speak with your doctor about your stress. Also try to practice self-care by getting adequate sleep, following a proper diet, getting exercise, and, if necessary, taking medication. It may be beneficial to find a divorce recovery class or group, or speak with a divorce counselor. Be cautious about overusing alcohol or beginning new romantic relationships at this time. Seek healthy escapes from your stress. Focus on supporting your children, and being the best parent you can be. If you have concerns about your stress level impacting your case, your parenting, or your life, advise your Washington attorney of these concerns.