Parenting Through Divorce

The reality of divorce is that you are separated from your children for periods of time, and they are separated from you. Their reaction to this change in their life is the most important part of divorce. Divorce affects children for the rest of their lives, and how you, as their parents, decide how to relate and get along determines how well they do.

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What you need to know:
  • Introduction to Parenting Through Divorce: It is very important to remember throughout your divorce and/or separation that your child's well-being should be your number one priority.
  • Getting Support During Your Divorce: One of the most important assets when experiencing divorce and/or separation is support from friends or relatives. Whether you have or do not have support from friends and/or relatives, keep in mind that a local support group is always a nice addition and/or alternative.
  • Managing Your Stress During Your Divorce: Since you are facing divorce and/or separation you probably have become very familiar with stress. How you deal with the stress is not only important to your health, but also affects your child's well being.

Parenting Plans
  • The Role of Parenting Plans: A parenting plan spells out the terms and conditions of custody and visitation when parents divorce or separate.Without explicit agreements about these responsibilities, disputes often arise, and costly litigation may be the result.
  • The Benefits of Parenting Plans: A parenting plan reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflicts between the parents. Therefore, parents who have a detailed parenting plan typically experience lower legal fees and attorney costs, which are associated with high-conflict child custody disputes and protracted child custody litigation.
  • Putting a Parenting Plan in Writing : It’s important for each parent to remember that whatever child visitation schedule is drafted and adopted by the parents, it’s not about the parents; it’s for the children.
  • The Connection Between Child Support and Parenting Plans: Child support and visitation are not dependent on each other. In other words, what happens with visitation doesn’t affect child support.
  • Establishing Routine in Parenting Plans: A detailed parenting plan provides predictability in the parenting schedule for both the parents and their child. It allows the parents to make plans for their child and implement a regular and consistent parenting routine for him/her.
  • Joint vs. Sole Custody in a Parenting Plan : No parent should be denied child custody, unless there are reasons to believe that his or her parental relationship will negatively affect the child.
  • Parenting Plans and the Best Interests of the Children: Custodial and non-custodial parents should always uphold their responsibilities. A parent should always ask: "Is this in the best interests of the children?"

Helping Your Child
  • While Divorcing Your Child Should Not Be Your Ally: Trying to get your child to be on your side is a common trap that parents tend to fall into. Parents see it as though they are showing more love or attention by doing so, but rather it is often a selfish tactic to gain revenge against the other parent.
  • Arguing In Front of Your Child: You and the other parent must make every effort to eliminate all types of negative actions towards one another in the presence of your child. This type of behavior can cause your child psychological harm that may be irreversible. This includes all arguments, phone arguments, nasty remarks, poking fun at one another, etc.
  • Communicating With Your Child Throughout the Divorce: It is important to have good communication with your child. Remember to be as open as possible, which will reinforce and even enhance your trust for one another.
  • Comparing Your Child to Your Ex-Spouse: Comparing your child to the other parent in a negative way is the quickest and easiest way to do the most emotional harm to your child. Let's analyze the situation.
  • Disciplining Your Child During Your Divorce: You and the other parent should always maintain and reinforce the same disciplinary methods. If one parent decides to institute a new rule, it should be discussed with the other parent prior to implementation.
  • Giving Your Child Gifts Because You Are Divorcing: Parents will often spend more money on presents for a child during a divorce and/or separation. The natural instinct is to do whatever you can to make a child happy and if that means buying him or her a new bike or a new dress, that is what must be done.
  • Moving With Your Child Because of Your Divorce: During divorce and/or separation it is not uncommon for the custodial parent to move out of the marital home with the child. This typically happens for one or a combination of three reasons.
  • Placing Blame for Your Divorce: Hopefully you do not blame your child's behavior for the divorce and/or separation. A child can add stress on a relationship one way or another, but any healthy relationship should be strong enough to get through the ups and downs of rearing a child.
  • Breaking Promises to Your Children: You need to establish trust, so avoid breaking promises to you child during and after your divorce.
  • Establishing and Maintaining Family Routines During and After Divorce: It is very important for your child to have things remain in tact during the divorce and/or separation. The change in the family structure is enough to be burdened with, so try to make all the little things stay the same, like bedtime stories, movie night, game night, dinner time, visits with relatives, etc.
  • Sharing Your Financial Concerns With Your Child During Your Divorce: Sharing your feelings with your child during the divorce and/or separation is highly recommended, but you should limit it to those other than financial concerns and emotional feelings towards the other parent.
  • Bonding & Re-Bonding: Parenting after divorce involves re-bonding with your child. Re-bonding or reconnecting may be considered a new concept, but it has happened throughout time.
  • Healing: Each of you as parents will need to heal, as will your children. It takes different periods of time for each of you. Humans heal from horrible situations over time.
  • Getting Adjusted to Divorce and/or Separation: Adjusting to the thought of not being married occurs in stages and the progress of adjustment varies depending on the situation, the family structure that existed, and your current lifestyle.

Dealing With the Other Parent
  • Criticizing the Other Parent During and After Your Divorce: Criticizing the other parent in front of your child is one of the most common mistakes. Each time you lash out or jokingly criticize the other parent your child is probably getting a very empty feeling in his or her stomach.
  • Trusting the Other Parent During and After Divorce: Trust is an important characteristic for any relationship. If you have trust, then you have the base for a good parenting relationship going forward. The trust needs to extend past the safety of your child to trusting that the other parent is trying hard to be a good parent, following your parenting plan, parenting values, morals, etc.
  • Co-Parenting : The reality of divorce is that you are separated from your children for periods of time, and they are separated from you. Their reaction to this change in their life is the most important part of divorce.
  • Decisions & Negotiations: To negotiate about a project or task and to make a decision about the things families normally discuss such as vacations, money, activities, church, moving etc. are some of the same things you will be doing after divorce.
  • Deciding and Establishing the Child Custody Arrangements: You and the other parent need to agree on a custody arrangement for your child. Once you achieve this task, you have taken a great step to lessen the emotional trauma your child will experience. Your child deserves to be made aware of your custody decision as soon as possible
  • Creating a Parenting Plan: A written parenting agreement is highly recommended, to the extent that certain states have made them mandatory in the state statutes. A parenting agreement should be rather comprehensive, because there are an enormous amount of issues to be addressed when it comes to the rearing of any child.
  • Commitment: The marriage relationship changes to a parent relationship and the obligations change from the spouse to the children, the commitment is focused on the needs of the children, not the needs of the spouse.
  • The Uninvolved Parent After Divorce: Unfortunately the statistics show that after a divorce and/or separation has taken place that a large percentage of the non-custodial parents become at least partially uninvolved in the life of his or her child. Parental desertion can be caused by many different things, so it is tough to actually provide a perfect remedy for getting the uninvolved parent back on track.

  • Step-parenting - Often Time a Struggle: The Ozzie and Harriet, Leave It to Beaver conception of family life that many Americans cherish as the model of domestic life now gives way to the Brady Bunch -- the stepfamily, or the blended family, as it is called.
  • A Mixed Picture of Whether the Children Benefit: Penn State Professor Paul Amato describes the contours of stepfamily living. In his paper "The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-being of the Next Generation," Amato writes: "Adding a stepfather to the household usually improves children's standard of living.
  • Unrealistic Assumptions by Stepparents and Stepchildren: "Both adults and children in stepfamilies generally have unrealistic expectations, particularly at the beginning," writes Mary Ann Aronsohn in "Stepfamily Life: Hope and Help for Making It Work," a publication of the Coalition for Collaborative Divorce.
  • Considerations for Stepparenting: Very few couples contemplating a second marriage that create a stepfamily understand the complexities of stepparenting. From day one, stepfamilies start out different in a myriad of ways, and the nuclear family model - two biological parents - does not fit them. Aronsohn catalogues the key differences this way.
  • The Dilemmas of Stepparenting: Many children and adolescents bring unresolved losses into their stepfamily. If these losses increase, children and adolescents may get depressed or act out against authority, which can lead to school adjustment difficulties.
  • Stepparenting Requires a "Learn As You Go" Approach: Society provides limited reasonable expectations for stepfamilies, says Aronsohn. "Stepparents find themselves learning as they proceed, since there no guides for step parenting.
  • Limited Child Support for Steppchildren: A stepparent has no legal obligation to support a stepchild under common law; however, twenty states (Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Washington) have statutes requiring a stepparent to support stepchildren.
  • Visitation Rights of Stepparents: Courts sometimes award stepparents visitation rights based on the "best interest" standard that dominates child custody and welfare decisions. Twenty-three of the 50 states statutorily authorize stepparent visitation.
  • Step-parent Adoption: Sometimes stepparents want to adopt their stepchildren, but this process is very difficult because unless the natural parent consents courts are very reluctant to separate biological parents and children.
  • Second Parent Adoption: Increasingly, some couples turn to what is called second parent adoption, which permits a same-sex parent to adopt a partner's biological or adoptive child without terminating the legal rights of the first parent.
  • Recent Related Blog Posts

Useful Online Tools

Suggested Reading
Creating a Successful Parenting Plan Creating a Successful Parenting Plan
This extraordinary book and computer disk offers separating or divorcing parents a sure-fire way to create a workable, practical parenting plan/agreement that is in the best interest of their children.

Author: Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.

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