Planning for Divorce With Children
Learn the right way to plan for divorce when you have kids
Planning for divorce with children means a focus on their best interest
We love our children as much and sometimes more than life itself. We make great personal and financial sacrifices for our children.
But what happens when spouses know their relationship faces challenges that may lead to a divorce? How do the spouses plan for divorce while not losing sight of the children's best interest.
The more contentious the divorce, the harder the divorce is for children
We see divorces from the perspective of experienced divorce attorneys. However, we also have significant exposure to the psychological aspects of divorce on both parents and children. We see this through our one on one discussions with our clients and professional communications with both forensic psychologists and clinical psychologists.
Our family law firm is especially in tune with the psychological aspects of the divorce on both parents and children through our extensive reading and study of the subject.
Our knowledge empowers our clients before they divorce
Knowledge truly is power and helps us offer intelligent legal advice to our clients when faced with high conflict divorce.
Here are two truths:
- The less the parents fight, the less stress on the children.
- The more the parents engage in high conflict behavior, the harder the divorce is on the children.
We will break up this article into two parts. The first is how to plan for a contentious divorce with children. The second is how to plan for an amicable divorce with children?
Learn more about divorcing a high conflict personality.
How do parents plan for a contentious divorce with children?
First, let us get the obvious out of the way. Sometimes, you simply cannot plan for an amicable divorce with children. If one parent is a child abuser, spousal abuser, long time addict or otherwise has pervasive shortcomings that affect the parent-child relationship, it is rare the divorce will be a low conflict or no conflict case.
1. Protecting the children during and after divorce is the primary goal
There is nothing wrong with conflict in a divorce when the purpose of it is to protect the children from harm. Only a fool would recommend handing over equal parenting time to an abuser, addict or someone whose conduct will likely place the children in danger.
Unfortunately, some of those fools actually practice law and we have seen the fallout from that when parents come to us after the fact and after terrible representation that led them to make equally terrible decisions.
But for everyone else, those husbands and wives who do not face the above issues, it is critical that each of them proceed with a divorce in a manner that causes the least amount of avoidable stress on the children.
Here are some tips to plan for a contentious divorce with children.
2. Expect the other parent to be unreasonable and plan accordingly
This should be obvious. Unfortunately, most parents walk into a contentious divorce without the necessary reality check. You and your spouse will likely not agree on a parenting plan immediately. It may require the filing of a request for order and possibly even a hearing.
Even then, and after the court makes orders, the other parent may violate them. Be mentally prepared to go through the litigation process.
Do not be surprised if you have to appear in court. If you are the type that hates conflict and has a difficult time in high conflict situations, ask your divorce attorney for a referral to a therapist. Your divorce attorney will prepare you for litigation and the hearing but he or she cannot help you with the emotions and stress that exists outside the courtroom.
3. Plan for the attorney's fees you may spend
Litigated cases cost more than amicable cases. That is a no-brainer, right? Then why is it that so many parents who go through a contested divorce are completely unprepared for its cost? The first is they fail to educate themselves on the process.
The second is their lawyer does not prepare them for that cost. Actively engage your divorce attorney in dialogue about the cost of divorce and specifically the child custody portions of it. Your attorney will not be able to guess your attorney's fees, unless you hired him or her on a flat fee for the entire case. Your attorney will however help give you a general idea of the cost range at various parts of the process.
4. Document the other parent's misconduct
- Keep a journal of the other parent's parenting time.
- Save text messages and emails by the other parent that may be useful in court.
- Take notes of discussions you had with the other parent that show his or her threats or misconduct.
- Do not be afraid to document those discussions in written or electronic communications with the other parent.
"Jane, you called me today to discuss my request for parenting time with Connor. I did not appreciate you yelling during the phone call nor did I appreciate the cursing. I asked for us to work together and come up with a parenting schedule. The fact you would tell me I will never see our son with a court order is not good co-parenting and shows you are not considering his best interest. Your anger toward me because of our relationship breaking up is no reason to interfere with my bond with our son. I ask that you please reconsider your approach to this."
5. Documenting misconduct has value during the divorce
Assuming of course that conversation accurately represents what this father and the mother (Jane) discussed regarding their son Connor, this email or text message has value.
What is Jane going to do? Deny that discussion took place. In that situation, the father can give Jane specific examples of what she said and ask her why she is lying?
What else could Jane do? Ignore the communication? That may be an admissions - as silence in the face of accusations sometimes can be exactly that.
And what if the judge then reads this and other communications between this father and Jane? It may have an impact on the judge's decision when he or she evaluates whether Jane's misconduct justifies taking significant parenting time away from her or ordering her to attend parenting classes.
6. Get the police involved when necessary
If you have a court order and the other parent is in significant violation of it, consider whether it makes sense to contact the police.
Calling the police should not however be the first resort. For example, if it is your parenting time with the children, you appear for the parenting time and the other parent refuses to hand over the children to you regardless of your reasonable attempts, then contacting the police in that situation makes sense. It also may make sense to make a formal police report to further document the incident.
7. File the contempt action when it is justified
If a parent violates the child custody order and especially if it becomes a pattern, consider whether your attorney should file a family law contempt action against the other parent.
Contempt actions are quasi-criminal and may cause the parent held in contempt to be ordered to pay fines, completed community service or even be sentenced to jail.
How can parents plan an amicable divorce to avoid unnecessary stress on the children?
Here are some steps husbands and wives can take to minimize stress on the children both before, during and after a divorce.
1. Learn to co-parent
Co-parenting is about communication and collaboration designed to work together and come up with solutions to the week to week or month to month issues that come up with children. This include anything that involves the children's health, safety, education or general welfare.
Parents should take co-parenting classes, read literature on co-parenting and engage in frequent dialogue on how they can improve that co-parenting relationship.
The marriage fell apart. That happens. You want a divorce. That also happens. Not having the diligence and discipline to become better co-parents should not happen. It is selfish, foolish and sends a strong message that the children's best interest is not a priority.
2. Hire family law representation that is experienced in divorces and skilled problem solvers
Your choice of a divorce attorney matters. The best divorce lawyers are problem solvers. They see a problem, analyze it, offer solutions and reasonable options.
If your reason for hiring an attorney is to make the process as difficult as possible on your spouse, you have taken the first step toward financial ruin or voluntarily increased your stress level to an unhealthy degree. Unless you are a masochist who enjoys both, you have to learn there is a time for litigation and a time for focused efforts toward resolution. A lawyer who is experienced at both is the right choice. A lawyer who only has one of the two gears is not only often the wrong choice but can make problems worse.
3. Don't financially stretch yourself to an unhealthy degree
Too often, I see parents who want to make financial sacrifices for their children but what they do not realize is the financial sacrifices are not only unnecessary but cause serious midterm to long-term problems. Children bounce back faster than adults do. Parents often have an exaggerated sense of how difficult life adjustments will be on children.
4. Simplify your life
Divorce is a full participation process. It will occupy your time. Some months, you will need to dedicate sufficient time to actively participate in the divorce. This participation includes but is not limited to completing paperwork your attorney needs, meeting with your attorney and, when necessary, appearing in court.
For these reasons, one important planning element for divorce is to simplify your life. Be careful of commitments that will interfere with your ability to actively participate in the process.
5. Be flexible with each other
Rigid, inflexible rules are no way to parent. This goes beyond co-parenting. Flexibility means you actively work with the other parent to modify parenting schedules when the situation reasonably calls for it. It also means giving older children, typically older teenagers, flexibility outside of the court ordered parenting schedule.
What is your next step when planning for divorce?
This article hopefully helped put into perspective the subject of planning for divorce with children.
You are not finished. You are now ready for the next step.
There is no substitute for great legal advice. That advice is a phone call away. We are available for an affordable, initial strategy session. Do not let the stress of a potential divorce unbalance your life. We can help you make smart choices.
Ready to learn more? Check out the links to our other articles on divorce planning.
Children make a divorce more complex but you can eliminate much of the stress that comes with that complexity by proper planning and preparation.
- B. Robert Farzad