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Parenting your children through a divorce: A family law attorney's guide

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This well known phrase has probably been uttered to you a time or two during your life to help you to conceptualize that your first step towards achieving a goal is just as important as the final step. What if you find yourself in a situation where your goal is to remove yourself from a harmful marriage and to provide a better life for your children? Where should you start when you bring this subject up to your children?

Depending on the age of your child, you may be best off discussing the divorce with your child in an open and honest fashion. From what I have found, parents experience good results by talking to their children together as a joint unit. This instills the idea in your children that you and your spouse are still on the same page when it comes to the most important aspect of their lives- their children. There will be question that your children want addressed after you tell them about your divorce. This will allow you and your spouse to give honest, supportive answers that clearly indicate that neither of them are going to leave the children without the care and support that they crave- whether they know it or not.

Make it well known to your children that both you and your spouse are not going anywhere

Even though your living arrangements will change and the life that they used to lead will change as well, neither you nor your spouse will be going anywhere as a result of the divorce. Your love for your children is unconditional and a change in your marital status will not affect that one bit. Use your words wisely

The divorce is not your children’s fault. You may understand this clearly but they may not. Express this in no uncertain terms. It wasn’t because they weren’t well behaved enough, or didn’t do well enough in school or sports that caused your divorce to happen. Simple and consistent answers to these difficult questions are the best way to attack this problem and reassure your children in the time period right after the conclusion of your divorce.

Do not sugar coat the situation if at all possible

The fact that you and your spouse are no longer living together will become evident to your children immediately. The questions that they ask you about this should also be dealt with directly as possible. It fair to tell your children that you and their other parent do not see eye to eye on some issues and that as a result you and he/she will no longer be living as married people.

The difficulty here will be to have this conversation without being overly specific and disrespectful of their other parent. Remember- your feelings about your spouse do not need to be (nor should they probably be) the feelings of your children. Allow them to form their own opinions based on their own intuition and experiences with each parent. In the meantime if you and your spouse show respect towards one another to your children they will be able to adjust to these changes that much easier.

What does co-parenting mean exactly?

You have likely heard the term “co-parenting” before in reference to collaborating and cooperating with your ex-spouse when it comes to your children. It is a media buzzword that is often repeated, sometimes to the point where the original meaning behind the word has been lost. How can you define this word for the betterment of you and your family?

Co parenting basically breaks down into sharing the burdens and benefits of parenting children. Real life decisions regarding topics both big and small are of concern here. The food that you choose for your child to eat, the religious services that they attend and the extracurricular activities that they participate in are chosen by you. If you and your ex-spouse are in agreement on what is in the best interest of your children and how to make decisions that reinforce those interests then that is the definition of strong and effective co-parenting in my mind.

Is it realistic to expect you and your ex-spouse to agree on all aspects of parenting your children? No, but there is some co-parenting skills to be learned in working with your ex-spouse to meet in the middle when you have differences of opinion. It’s easier said than done to agree to disagree and then to compromise but that is the challenge and opportunity that you have in front of you as a divorced parent.

Figure out what is important and address those issues primarily

We all know that when it comes to parenting that there are some issues that are of extreme importance and others that are less important. If you spend your time arguing about every parenting issue that you and your ex-spouse disagree on then you will no time to actually do the important job of parenting. Especially in the beginning stages of your post divorce life it may be wise to give your ex-spouse some space to figure out their parenting style in whatever environment you find yourselves in.

While you’re at it, why not look for opportunities to defend and promote the parenting choices of your ex-spouse that you agree with. For instance, if you see that your ex-spouse is disciplining your child for bad behavior it is wise to continue that discipline at your home as well. This is the sort of consistency in parenting that is a hallmark of effective and loving co-parenting. In doing this you make your kids aware that there are not two sets of rules that apply to them and that discipline and love are going to be consistent from home to home.

What happens if your ex-spouse will not co-parent with you?

All of this is to say that co-parenting is effective if both parents are invested in the process and willing to commit to it. It could be that you find yourself in a situation where your spouse is not willing to work with you and instead chooses to go their own way when it comes to parenting your child. In situations like that the advice that I provided in prior sections of this blog will not be applicable for you. So what can you do to be an effective parent despite the roadblocks presented by an ex-spouse who is hostile in many regards?

For one, keep records regarding all of your interactions with your spouse. If they are on the phone you should keep a call log and a subject listing of what topics you discussed. Secondly, your text messages and emails should be logged in case they need to be utilized or referred to in the future.

The bottom line is that you should not use up your time by discussing issues with your ex-spouse that are not related to your children. If you get the impression that your spouse is simply attempting to relitigate your divorce with you it is smart to re-direct the conversation back towards your children. If he or she is not willing to discuss things with you in a civil and courteous manner I would suggest that you make it known that you will only be able to talk to him or her about emergency matters and necessary topics that are related to your children. This can save you time and sanity during a time when both will be in short supply.

Questions about divorce and co-parenting? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

If you are interested in learning more about divorce and the subjects that are related to divorce then please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with one of our licensed family law attorneys six days a week. In a consultation you can ask can questions and address issues that you are unclear about. Our attorneys place your interests ahead of their own and would be honored to speak to you about your case.

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