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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 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 provide a better life for your children? Where should you start when you bring this subject up to your children?

Depending on your child's age, you may be best off discussing the divorce with your child openly and honestly. I have found that 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 regarding the most critical aspect of their lives- their children. There will be questions that your children want to be addressed after you tell them about your divorce. This will allow you and your spouse to give honest, supportive answers that indicate that neither of them will 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 they used to lead will change as well, neither you nor your spouse will be going anywhere due to 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. Consistent and straightforward answers to these difficult questions are the best way to attack this problem and reassure your children in the period right after the conclusion of your divorce.

Do not sugarcoat 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 they ask you about this should also be dealt with directly as possible. It is fair to tell your children that you and their other parents do not see eye to eye on some issues and that, as a result, you and they 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 intuition and experiences with each parent. In the meantime, if you and your spouse show respect towards 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 about 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 to better yourself and your family?

Co-parenting breaks down into sharing the burdens and benefits of parenting children. Accurate 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 selected by you. If you and your ex-spouse agree 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 solid 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 are 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 essential and address those issues primarily

We all know that some issues are critical, and others are less important regarding parenting. If you spend your time arguing about every parenting issue that you and your ex-spouse disagree on, you will have no time to 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. 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 will 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 ready to work with you and instead chooses to go their way to parenting your child. In cases like that, the advice I provided in this blog's prior sections will not apply to 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 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 unrelated to your children. If you feel that your spouse is simply attempting to relitigate your divorce with you, it is wise to re-direct the conversation to your children. Suppose they are not willing to discuss things with you civilly and courteously. In that case, I suggest that you make it known that you will only be able to talk to them about emergency matters and necessary topics 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 related to divorce, 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 questions and address issues 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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