The divorce process is always difficult for everyone involved, and it can be even more difficult when there are children involved. The process can be time-consuming, confusing, and emotionally draining. However, once a divorce is finalized, new questions and problems can arise. Divorced couples need time to adjust to the new dynamics of their life. When children are involved, they will also need time to adjust to the new dynamics of their relationship with their parents. This often involves time-sharing, where children split their time between their parents. When that happens, it is important for parents to stay focused on what is in their child or children’s best interests. Avoiding unnecessary conflict and making the transition from a single home to two separate households as easy as possible for children can be a difficult task, but there are things that parents can do in order to make the transition easier on children.
Create a Realistic Parenting Plan
Courts will generally require you and your spouse to agree on a parenting plan that the court will look over and need to approve before making a final custody decision. Make sure you approach this type of plan realistically, taking into consideration as many details and potential obstacles to its fulfillment as possible. For instance, if you know your job will require sporadic travel with little advance notice, you should prepare for that in your parenting plan so that there is a framework in place when and if such events occur. Or, if you know that your family reunion happens during the same time period every year and you have always enjoyed bringing your children to that event, make sure that the parenting plan reflects a custody arrangement that will allow you to do that. Keep in mind that anything that may require you to diverge from the parenting plan or that involves overnight, out-of-state visits may require the co-parent to agree to those terms in writing. By planning ahead before the final custody arrangement is determined, you can help avoid a great deal of potential conflict when issues arise that were easily taken care of during the marriage.
Additionally, make sure your parenting plan takes into account extended family. If a child’s grandparents across the country have had the child for one week out of every year, you are wise to include that in your plan. It is ill-advised to make that week count against the shared time of the parent on the same side of the family as that set of grandparents, but instead try to be flexible in your own needs to make sure that your child or children can enjoy the same strong relationship they have built with extended members of each family.
Even with a detailed, effective parenting plan in place, planning ahead is still essential to maintain a happy, healthy relationship between you, your children, and their co-parent. If you find out in January that you can get an incredible deal on a summer vacation for you and your kids, but the dates available are the dates on which the co-parent would normally have custody of the children, do not purchase the vacation and wait until a few weeks before to discuss it with the co-parent. Reach out to the co-parent immediately, and find out how you can work with together to make the vacation happen while not interfering with scheduled time with the children. This may also help prevent conflicts in vacations if the co-parent has something planned during the same time period.
The same goes for planning holidays and other events. If it is important to you that your children spend time with you and your family at traditional holiday parties but your co-parent has custody of the children during that time frame, plan ahead to determine if there is a way to work out allowing the children to both spend time with the co-parent that has custody and still not miss out on traditional family gatherings that may be equally as important to the children as they are to you.
While it is important to create a realistic parenting plan, there are often events that arise after divorce that cannot be predicted. When certain life events occur, try to be as flexible as possible to work with your spouse to address them. If your spouse has an emergency or some type of unpredictable commitment, try and be flexible in your time-sharing arrangement. Keep in mind that a time may come when you need to diverge from the arrangement because of one reason or another, and your spouse is likely to be more amenable to your needs if you have demonstrated that you are amenable to his or hers. There is a fine line between being flexible and being taken advantage of, and you should monitor situations to make sure that you are not being taken advantage of in the arrangement – but a little give and take between both parents will make the time-sharing process less stressful and more productive for everyone involved.
Get Rid of Baggage
There are likely a number of issues that led up to the decision to pursue divorce. Some may have created deep emotional wounds that take a great deal of time to heal. However, the less you cling to negative baggage held over from the divorce, the easier it will be for all people involved in the divorce to move on. Each person heals emotionally in his or her own way, but even if you are still in the process of healing emotionally, try to let go of the negative energy that can surround communication and interaction between you and your former spouse. This will help you process emotions more effectively, and will help demonstrate to your children that both of their parents are dedicated to a productive relationship where the children remain front and center.
Additionally, keep your tone regarding your ex positive. They may have cheated on you, they may have lied to you, they have have done any number of things that make you seethe with anger. However, it is important to maintain a positive attitude toward your ex in front of your children. When you go out with your friends while your former spouse has custody of the children, you may find it cathartic to curse your ex into oblivion. However, doing so in front of your children not only creates a negative impression of your former spouse, but also of you. You cannot “win” by demeaning your ex in front of your kids.
If one parent has taken charge of school-related choices and issues, and has noticed a change in a child’s behavior at school or other potential negative emotional changes, that parent may determine a child’s best interest can be met through counseling. While this may be the best choice for the child or children, it is important to communicate your concerns and proposals as clearly and effectively as possible to the other parent. This way, the other parent retains a sense of involvement in making important decisions and is aware of the events occurring in the child’s life. They can also keep a closer eye on behavior and other warning signs of potential emotional difficulty the child may be experiencing.
The same can be said of extracurricular activities. You and your former spouse may have determined that you wanted your children involved in piano and soccer when they were old enough to be. If that time comes after divorce, it is important to discuss such enrollment with the other parent to ensure that they are aware of the details of a specific activity and how it may potentially affect the time-sharing arrangement you have in place. For instance, if a child enrolls in a soccer league, what happens if the league ends up playing away games during advanced rounds? That may interfere with the co-parent’s time with the child, and you want to make sure that both parties are aware of the impact such activities could have. Additionally, communicating on activities and getting input from the other parent is often an effective way to agree to split the costs related to such activities instead of just demanding that the other parent chips in.
Discuss and Agree on Acceptable Behavior
A child’s mental, emotional, and physical health are important. While there is no law that says you cannot feed your child fast food on a daily basis, it probably is not the healthiest dietary choice. If you firmly believe in certain acceptable activities, behaviors, meal choices, etc., then you need to discuss those openly and honestly with the co-parent. Chances are that, many times, they feel the same way. However, it often gets trickier when it goes beyond dietary concerns. For instance, one parent may have a very different opinion on weekend bedtimes. Children perform better with structure in place, especially structure that continues from one parent to the other. Work together to establish guidelines for behavior, such as specific bedtimes and punishments for poor behavior. This helps children understand that they cannot play one parent off of another, and it helps co-parents avoid conflict over children’s behaviors in the long run.
Assistance with Custody
Time-sharing can be a very detailed process. There are many more factors that must be considered than those listed here, some of which may impact child support payments and may have potential tax consequences. No two marriages are alike, and no two divorces are alike, either. If you are looking to modify a current custody arrangement, or are considering divorce and have questions about child custody arrangement, co-parenting, and/or parenting plans, contact Scott J. Stadler to schedule a consultation about questions you have based on the unique circumstances of your divorce.