The decision to leave your family home with your children during a divorce can be an incredibly difficult period of transition for you and your family. If you are anything like me, then providing your children with a sense of stability and consistency in their lives has been one of the foremost goals that you have as a parent. Being able to make sure that your children know where they will be going to school, what their social circle looks like, and where your child will be laying their heads at night can be an incredibly important consideration to ponder as you head into a divorce.
Hopefully, you are giving this subject enough thought as you weigh your options about how to proceed with a divorce. Parents typically fall into two categories when it comes to making decisions in a divorce setting regarding their children. One category of parents wants to do everything possible, and pull out all the stops to provide their children with the consistency and stability in their lives that we talked about in the prior paragraph. Even if it means great hardship for them on a personal level, sacrifices will be made. Here is an example that will hopefully illustrate this point for you.
A parent who was willing to sacrifice a great deal to not have to move
A few years ago, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan was working on behalf of a client who was going through a particularly difficult divorce. Our client and their wife were not seeing eye to eye on much of anything- as happens so frequently in a divorce. However, this case took the cake. These two folks were fighting like cats and dogs. One would say the sky was blue and the other would have to look up just to make sure. That sort of divorce. The marriage had ceased to be productive, and a breakup was occurring.
We were attending mediation for temporary orders. That is the phase of divorce towards the beginning where you and your spouse would work together to see if you can settle any issues in your case, The mediation allows an experienced family law mediator to intercede into the case and help to work out an agreement between you two. The result of the mediation could be a mediated settlement agreement that allows you all to not even have to attend a temporary orders hearing.
In this case from a few years ago, the husband and wife were making progress in mediation. They were working together to discuss the subject of which of them would be remaining in the house. Our client was a high-income earner while his wife was a stay-at-home parent and wife. She had no income and would be relying on her husband to pay the mortgage. Our client was not going to be the primary conservator of the kids, either. This meant that he would be the parent who had visitation rights to the kids.
What this father proposed was bold. He was willing to pay spousal support (financial support that goes towards meeting your spouse’s minimal, basic needs) as well as the mortgage and all expenses on the home. The amount of spousal support was going to be far and above any proven need that his wife had. He wanted to be able to stay in the house during the divorce and ultimately, after the house as well. The question we should be asking ourselves at this stage of a case is why would he want to stay in a house so badly. After all, he had plenty of money. He could rent a nice home for himself and then ultimately purchase a property in whatever neighborhood he wanted.
Here is what this dad of three kids wanted. He wanted his children to be able to associate him with the house that the family grew up in together. All the memories, all of the family moments- he wanted his kids to associate him with those good times and those emotions. He was willing to pay a lot of money to get that result. From his perspective, it was worth every penny to spend the money on being able to stay in the home. Only being able to see his kids every other weekend and once during the week for the entire school year meant that he wanted to take advantage of those opportunities. He believed that allowing the kids to wake up in their beds each weekend they were with him would make a difference in building a relationship and a life with the kids after a divorce.
Kids are resilient, right?
The other category that you may fall into is the parent who will confidently tell their attorney and their family that children are resilient. More specifically, their children are resilient. If you fall into this category, then there are some considerations for you to pay attention to as you begin your divorce. First, you should think critically about how resilient your actual kids are. Not in theory or anything like that. Do your kids tend to keep a pretty level head about the things going on around them? Or do they tend to get upset by small changes or variations to their normal schedule? A lot of this will depend upon their age as well as their maturity level. Many children simply do not adjust well to changing their daily outlook. Younger children especially have a very limited worldview and come to see their routines to make sense of their little world.
Next, I would think about your employment situation. Wait- why does employment have to come into this discussion? Simply put, where you work and how you work to make a difference not only in determining where you will move but how well your kids can adjust to the move. Let's consider two different jobs that you could consider taking when it comes time to look for new employment. They pay the same salary and have the same benefits. However, there are major differences in other parts of the jobs.
One job allows you to work remotely from your home. Your boss takes a hands-off approach and generally doesn’t mind if you need to take a morning or afternoon off from work to take your kids to the doctor or dentist. Being a remote employee allows you to take your kids to the bus stop at the corner each morning and then wait for them in the afternoon. Homework can be done at the kitchen table while you finish up work for the day. You prepare meals for the kids and play with them after school.
The other job is not so permissive. You must drive nearly an hour through traffic to get to this job. Your new boss is a stickler for punctuality and needs you to submit time off requests for even an afternoon or evening. She doesn't particularly like when people call in to take their child to the doctor, either. You leave the house before the school bus arrives and get home after the school bus has already dropped the kids off. Cooking isn't an option for you, either.
See the difference? The job that you have makes a big difference in how well your kids will adapt to your need to move because of the divorce. If you have a job that allows you some leniency as far as time away from work to attend to matters involving your children, then your kids may be able to adapt better to the inevitable changes of a divorce. On the other hand, a job where you are tied to your desk and need to travel a long way just to get there cannot only leave you feeling like you are not doing everything you can to help your children, but it may ultimately impact your work performance, as well.
A divorce is a time of transition for your family no matter what other circumstances are going on in your life. You are ending a marriage, helping your children adapt to living in another household, and potentially moving yourself. These are all changes that may be unavoidable to an extent, but you can certainly minimize the disruptions, especially to your children. You can help the children maintain a certain degree of stability and consistency in their lives by being as physically present with them as possible. I realize that this may not be as easy as you would like it to be but if you can make sacrifices, even temporarily, that can truly help your children adjust better to life during and after a divorce.
Threading the needle between stability and necessary change
Much of the information that follows may seem like I am giving you an impossible assignment. If you do find yourself in a circumstance where moving from the family home with your children is necessary then you should do everything possible to help your children understand why the move is going to happen and what it means to them. The older your children are the more they will be able to understand the ramifications of the move and hopefully process what it means that much better. On the other hand, your younger children may only understand that they will be living in a different house and not much beyond that. You should approach this subject as being one where the age of your children certainly matters. Do not overwhelm your younger children with too much information. At the same time, be honest with your older children but be wary of sharing too much information with them, as well.
One of the unfortunate issues that I see occur from time to time regarding divorce cases with children is that the parent may look to the children as confidants or sounding boards for the divorce. You may be looking for some support and your children are readily available to be able to help you by physically being present with you during this difficult time. However, remember that your children are not adults and are not mature enough from an emotional perspective to be able to take on the burdens that you may be placed on them. It may not be your intent to do this, but the result may be that your kids are going through a difficult time themselves and are unable to understand everything that you are talking to them about.
Rather, you should be trying to do everything you can to help the children adjust to moving during your divorce. This could include working with your spouse to take as many items from your child's old room to fill the new room with familiar objects that can make your child feel more comfortable in their new surroundings. Something as simple as a stuffed animal or even a familiar blanket or decoration for the bedroom can be enough to help your child with developing a level of comfort in their new home.
On the other hand, you should also be working with your child to help him or her understand that divorce is something that will create change for your family. Trying to forever obscure the divorce and its impacts on your child's life is a mistake. Rather than trying to cover up any of the difficulties of the divorce, you can help your child to understand what meaningful changes will come about because of the case while being vigilant about your child's need for consistency and stability. This can be a difficult needle to thread, but the results can be incredibly beneficial both for you and your child.
Choosing where you live can be extremely important and helping your child adjust to a move
From your child's perspective, their school, friends, and extracurricular activities are probably the most important aspects of their lives outside of your home. With that said, you can help your child in this regard by choosing a new place to live that is as close to their old home as possible. For example, if you will be the primary conservator of your children during the divorce case that means your children will be living with you during the school week. As a result, choosing a home that is close to your existing family home can be incredibly important for your children. At least being able to remain in the same school for that school year kid help your children with any issues they may have with feeling uneasy about the changes As a result of your divorce.
One case that I can recall from a few years ago involved two parents who both liked the area that they were living in at the time of their divorce. Their children were school-aged and had many friends in the subdivision. Additionally, their home was zoned to a great school for all their children. As a result, those parents chose to include a geographic restriction in their Final Decree of Divorce which made it mandatory for the children to reside in a certain school district. This allowed the family to remain in the same area together and made the move for the children to a new home that much easier.
Overall, time spent in a vehicle traveling to and from certain locations in Houston can be incredibly time-consuming. The more you and your Spouse can work together to determine places to live that are close by and do not require a great deal of time in vehicles, the better off your children will be. If your children have to sit in a car and travel across town to go from mom’s house to dad's house, then they can begin to feel the emotional weight of a case bear down on them. Living close to your ex-spouse may seem undesirable in some regards but relation to your children and moving it can be a great decision for your family.
A final note that I will make regarding moving and helping your children adjust during a divorce is about finding a place to live that is within your budget. I know that this is a family law attorney blog and not of financial planning or personal finance blog. However, being able to set yourself up well after a divorce means making good financial decisions. Choosing a home based on it being near your old home may not be the best decision to make if you cannot afford the rent or mortgage payment. For that reason, the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan recommend to our clients that they budget well and are intentional about how they spend money during and after a divorce. Putting your family in a difficult financial position to stay in the same neighborhood is not wise for you or your children.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.