Clients often share that one of the most difficult aspects of going through a divorce is wondering how to shield one’s children from the emotional and financial impact divorce often has on families. Parents worry that a child will learn about an affair engaged in by one of the parents; that a child will be exposed too soon to a new partner; that a child may have to change schools as a result of the sale of a home; that there won’t be enough monthly support to maintain the lifestyle a child is used to enjoying; that a child will feel blamed for the divorce; that a child’s school performance will suffer. For parents, the list of concerns during a divorce may feel endlessly long and terribly frightening.
The court expects parents to act in their children’s best interests. However, the reality is that the divorce process can take a toll on parenting relationships, even when fairly amicable. Relationships are even more impacted when parents testify against one another, and are then expected to leave the courthouse and co-parent successfully. The damage done to relationships during the divorce process can make even the most minor communication difficult.
However, there are many tools at the disposal of divorcing parties. First, the process option you choose at the beginning of your divorce can greatly impact your ability to co-parent post-divorce. We often remind clients that the vast majority of cases settle — sometimes on the courthouse steps, or in a judge’s chambers, but ultimately trial is avoided. If you assume you will fall into the category of settled cases, then it makes sense to consider alternative methods for dispute resolution from the get-go, to avoid the pain and cost of litigation. The most common non-adversarial options include mediation and the Collaborative Divorce process. In both processes, parents can develop detailed parenting plans that set forth their agreements about shared schedules, holidays, and how parenting issues will be handled. When parties develop plans themselves, rather than the court telling them how that plan should look, they are more likely to follow that plan. Clear parenting plans also help reduce conflict by spelling out expectations. For example, a parenting plan that simply says “we will alternate holidays” is not as useful as one that identifies specific holidays, exchange times, and which parent will have the children in odd or even years.
In this day of ready internet access, parents can find many resources to support them as they attempt to co-parent during and after a divorce. There are many excellent books designed to address the challenges that divorcing individuals face, both geared towards parents and geared towards the children themselves. In addition, parents can work with Child Specialists or trained therapists to help children transition from a shared household into two households. Mental health professionals (or Divorce Coaches in the Collaborative model) help parents learn to communicate more effectively, or set up ground rules for how communication will occur, to attempt to limit the conflict that may exist between parents.
Successful co-parenting post-divorce is a challenge even under the best of circumstances. Parents often struggle when their children come home and share information about the other parent’s household, parenting choices, or lifestyle. Finding ways to communicate before the divorce is final will give parents a more positive approach to addressing concerns that may arise in the future.
Contact one of our expert divorce lawyers about structuring a thorough parenting plan.
by Jill Brittle