For most parents thinking about divorce, the well-being of their children is their most important priority. Divorcing parents know there will be change for their children, but they want to minimize it. And while parents simply can’t always protect their children from divorce, there are some things they can do to protect their children during the divorce.
1. Don’t speak poorly about the other parent.
No matter their age – toddler, teen, or adult child – children see themselves as being a 50/50 reflection of their parents. After all, it is in their DNA. So when you say something negative about the other parent, your children feel like you are speaking negatively about them. It’s not a good feeling for children when they feel like mom or dad thinks bad things about them.
2. Don’t lean on your children when you need emotional support during the divorce.
We love our children. We are close to them. If our marriage is falling apart, they are often the first person we see in those moments of sadness or anger. Resist the urge to talk to them about your marriage and your emotions. Call a friend or a sibling. Therapy is a great option to work through the very normal emotions of divorce. But don’t make your child your confidant. They have their own emotions to process. They don’t need the weight of your grief to bear too.
3. Plan to tell your children about the divorce together.
Almost every parent I have ever represented says that one of their most important goals is to minimize the impact of the divorce on their children. Learning to be good co-parents together is a great start towards achieving that goal. You may feel anger or bitterness towards your spouse. You may feel guilt or shame. But either way, these are adult emotions that should be temporarily tabled so that you and your spouse can present a unified front to your children – a front that says you both love your children, that your children are not to blame for this divorce, and that the two of you will work together to make sure that they will still have their family and their friends. Your children will be sad and afraid when you tell them about the divorce. They need to know that you will both be there for them.
4. Choose a divorce process that puts your children first.
Many divorcing couples do not realize that you have options when it comes to divorce. Most believe that hiring lawyers to fight over who will “win” is the only way to go. This is not true. There simply is no “win” in divorce. And if you choose the path of hiring lawyers to fight in a win-lose battle, it is your children who will suffer the most. You cannot hide the effects of a nasty courtroom battle from them. And in some of those courtroom battles, parents and their lawyers take the children to court, encouraging them to talk poorly about the other parent directly to the judge. A Collaborative Divorce is a better option. In a Collaborative Divorce, the parents work with lawyers who are trained in this specialized settlement process to exchange information in a cooperative manner and discuss schedule options for their children without a war by trial. Parents have the option to jointly hire a neutral parenting coach to guide them through how to talk to the children about divorce and develop a custom-fit schedule for the school year and holidays. They also have the option to jointly hire a neutral Financial Professional to help with post-divorce budgeting and developing various options for how to divide property and debt. All of this cooperation enables parents to avoid mud-slinging battles and instead keep the children at the forefront of their focus.
Remember, divorce is hard and it’s scary for parents and children alike. Make sure when interviewing lawyers to represent you that you choose one who will help you minimize the negative impact of divorce on your children.
Rhonda Cleaves is a divorce attorney who has been Credentialed in Collaborative Law. Her office is in Plano, Texas, and she represents clients primarily in Collin County, Dallas County, Denton County, and Tarrant County. For more information and to set up a consultation, she can be reached at (972) 403-0333.