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The Impact of Divorce on Children

When you go through a divorce it means taking the life that you and your spouse have built for yourselves and turning it on its head. You have become accustomed to the routines of marriage and now you and your spouse are going to be purposefully changing all of that to separate yourselves from one another. That this separation will not only be physical makes the process even more difficult. There are emotional, familial, financial, and other considerations at stake in a divorce. Your marriage is the most crucial relationship that you have and to end a marriage means to jump on the brakes to your vehicle abruptly. You can expect that the car’s contents may end up a bit topsy-turvy.

That your retirement may be less plentiful, or your investments may have taken a hit is one thing. However, another consideration for you and your family is that your children have been made a part of the divorce- whether they know it, or not. Your kids are going to be impacted by this divorce. The extent of their involvement in the divorce and their ability to “bounce back” from the divorce has a lot to do with how well you and your spouse can work with each other to care for the kids and ease their transition into a divorced family. Is that something you’re prepared to do? If you are unsure of how ready and willing you are to co-parent with someone that you are divorcing, then today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is for you.

Divorce is not easy and it is rarely a “win-win”

When you and your spouse go through a divorce it can be easy and comforting to tell other people that it was a mutual decision and in the best interests of everyone involved. On some levels, this may be right. You and your spouse may be past the point where you want to be married to each other any longer. You may have emotionally left the marriage years ago. Now that you are working to end the marriage formally there are considerations that you still need to pay attention to.

Your children need to be at the front of your mind as you go through a divorce. For many parents, this is already the case. However, if you need to see how important a stable family life is to kids just as your children about their friends whose parents have gone through a divorce. You will quickly find out that those families experienced a lot of ups and downs in a relatively short period because of the divorce. Given that children do best in homes with stability and consistency there is no wonder how divorce is such as tumultuous event in the lives of children.

Your children have limited life experience because of their being young. Even teenagers (who typically think of themselves as being grown people) struggle with the change that is inherent in divorce. For younger children, it can be even more difficult. Life experience helps us as adults form opinions, cope with loss, and generally keep our wits during hard circumstances. We can see that just because something bad happens today that does not mean that bad things are only going to happen in the future. Children are not fortunate enough to have those sorts of life experiences. Your children, on the other hand, are more limited in terms of their ability to live reality on reality’s terms. When your child sees that your divorce is hard today, he or she reasonably assumes that life moving forward is going to be just as tough as yesterday and today.

As adults, we know that even grey clouds have silver linings and that it is always darkest before dawn. Those analogies aside, bad times frequently lead to good times. Sometimes when life is hard you just must trudge forward until you can come out on the other side. Otherwise, you will never be able to get past the tough stage of your life that you are in right now. Again, children can’t have this confidence or belief because they do not have the life experiences to back it up. You can tell your children that life will get better, and things will improve. However, a man with experience is not at the mercy of a man with an opinion. Your children have no experiences so they will be subject to the opinions of others- that’s all they must rely upon.

As a parent, you need to be sensitive to the situation that your children find themselves in during a divorce. They are unsure of themselves and not confident in their ability to adapt to this new life. Change is hard especially when you have no way of processing that change or understanding why the change is occurring in the first place. Couple that with an inability to understand the nature of marriage and how their parents could find it so hard to remain married and you and your spouse have your work cut out for one another when it comes to helping kids manage the divorce process.

If anything, this realization should help you to keep your focus on the children during the divorce. You should not shrug off a divorce and tell anyone who will listen that the divorce is no big deal. If that is what helps you manage your situation during a divorce, so be it, but remember that your children do not have that luxury. Rather, your children are going through the difficulties of a divorce without the life experience that you do. Sometimes just admitting to yourself that your divorce is not positive and then acknowledging that you are going through something negative is enough to cause you to see the case from the perspective of your children.

What are the main issues in a divorce from the perspective of your children?

Your children will notice important differences in their lives after a divorce from the perspective of where he or she is living and the degree to which they can see both you and your co-parent. In most marriages, spouses live together and the kids also live at home. This means that your children were most likely able to live with both of their parents and could see both of you whenever they wanted to. Now that you are going through a divorce this will no longer be the case. If nothing else, physically not being able to see their mom and dad at the same time is disorienting.

Next, your child will be in a situation where he or she will spend time with you and your co-parent in each of your new homes. While one of you will likely be staying in the marital home, one of you will also be moving out. Whether that parent moves into an apartment or a single-family home means, there will be an adjustment period for the kids. They will need to be able to learn that their new reality involves going back and forth between their homes. Parents can minimize this transition by choosing to live closer to one another. Having to drive across Houston in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon to go to Dad’s house is not a great idea if it can at all be avoided.

Your children will be gaining friends and social commitments as they age. If there is a party or event that they want to attend near their home on the first, third, or fifth weekends of each month it can be difficult to have to leave that situation in favor of going to dad’s house who lives across town. Your child may not have the maturity to understand why it is important to spend time with family on these weekends and less important to spend time with their friends. It can take time for children to learn this lesson. While that is happening, your child could hold it against you when he or she has to miss an important social engagement.

Younger children can also struggle with adjusting to a new parenting schedule between your home and that of your co-parent. While little kids do not necessarily have the social schedule of an older child, your younger children do tend to miss you more than an older child would. These younger children have less gone on in their lives and frankly don’t have the aptitude to have relationships between their siblings and immediate family members. That their two caretakers have altered their relationship can be a traumatic experience for a child. Imagine waking up one more and seeing that you live in a different country or that the sky is now green instead of blue. Your child may similarly experience divorce.

If divorce is a bus and you’re the bus driver, then your children are the passengers. More than that, they didn’t even get on the bus willingly. You didn’t pick them up from the bus stop. Rather, you knocked on their front door and threw them inside. You did not stop to ask the kids if they wanted you to divorce their father. I am not advocating for this to be done but I am saying that your children are not in a position where they are going to feel like they had much of a say at all in the divorce. This can lead to hurt feelings and problems in future relationship building. At the very least you need to understand what you can do to a child when filing a divorce.

Parenting classes

The State of Texas acknowledges that divorce is going to be a challenge for you, your spouse, and your children. For that, the court will likely require that you and your spouse go through a parenting course before the end of your divorce. These parenting classes will help you to be able to acknowledge the challenges that divorce presents to a family and can assist you in managing your expectations and concerns regarding the divorce. Co-parenting as a team is also an especially important aspect of these co-parenting classes. Do not assume that you will be able to parent the way you want 100% of the time just because you and your spouse are getting divorced. While it may be easy and satisfying to think that the divorce ends the cooperative stage of your and your spouse’s relationship, that is not at all true. It can be argued that your relationship is beginning its most critical stage right now.

Be sure to talk with your attorney about these parenting classes and what sort of challenges you can expect to encounter in a divorce. Co-parenting classes are effective when you and your spouse are devoted to the content and take the process seriously. Do not use the class as an opportunity to “check a box” and to say that you have done your part to ease your child’s transition into post-divorce life. Rather, divorce can be your opportunity to improve your parenting skills and emphasize your child as the center of your life.

One of the most effective tools that you can learn in a parenting class is how to teach your children to not focus on the divorce as being something that they pushed you and your spouse into. Children frequently blame themselves for having caused a divorce. You can learn skills in these parenting classes that will help you to be able to share with them that this is not the case. Rather, what you have the opportunity to do is to take seriously the parenting classes, get as much out of them as you can and then move on to applying those skills in your real-life parent-child relationship.

When you work with an attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan in your divorce you can talk to your attorney to see if counseling may be an idea that you should pursue during and/or after a divorce. Counseling is a resource available to most people through their health insurance. You can investigate counseling resources through your health insurance provider, primary care doctor, church, or other community resource.

Beware of parental alienation

The last thing that I wanted to discuss with you in today’s blog post is related to parental alienation. Parental alienation is an important subject in the context of a divorce and is something that is not discussed enough, in my opinion. Parental alienation is when one parent attempts to drive a wedge between their child and the other parent by back-biting, bad-mouthing, and ill of your co-parent in front of the children. Not only can your child be exposed to some seriously negative talk, but it is especially pernicious given that you are not going to be around to report the bad behavior to the court.

Parental alienation is tough to handle because you must identify the symptoms of parental alienation because you will not be around for the alienating behavior itself. Your child could understandably be having trust issues during and after a divorce. He or she will be looking for consolation during a divorce. Your co-parent could abuse this trust by telling your child any number of lies or exaggerations about you while you are not around to hear what is happening. Many times, this happens with the assistance of a grandparent or other trusted authority figure.

Children who have heard alienating conversations often will act strangely around you. Your child may have previously been affectionate towards you but is not acting distant. Your child may have been calm and happy previously but is now a jumpy and angry child. Such are some of the symptoms of alienation that you could pick out and observe. When you identify these issues, you should talk to your child to see what is the matter. If you can figure out what the cause of these symptoms is then you have a chance to counteract them. However, if you cannot identify and treat the problems then your chances of solving the issues are almost zero.

What this should tell you is that you will have your hands full of challenges in your divorce- especially if you have children. However, this does not mean that you are never going to have a strong relationship with your children again or that the divorce is forever going to scar the kids. However, you need to be intentional about how you handle the divorce from the perspective of your children. Having the right attorney can make a huge difference.

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