When parents are divorcing the issue that comes up the most is how much time is each party going to have with their children after the divorce concludes. Everything else- property, child support, retirement savings, the family house- takes a backseat to the idea that parents want to be able to spend as much time as possible with their children. This is understandable. The reality is that if you are going through a divorce that you will not have as much time your children that you once did. There is not much you can do to avoid this. However, there are things that you can implement in your life and those of your children after the divorce to make this transition smoother.
It is very important that you and your ex-spouse have time with your kids after the divorce. You are simultaneously continuing to build your relationship with your child and also re-building it after the hardships of the divorce. The dynamics of your family are different now than they were before. The last thing you want to do is expose your children to more difficulties during the initial months of post-divorce life. Many people in your position find out that visitation time can be a setting where parents don not necessarily handle this transition all that well.
Think about your divorce for a moment. Were you and your spouse amicable with one another? Did you seek the best interests of your children at all times and put your own wants and desires on the backburner? Ideally this is what happened for you and your family. On the other hand, many families are not able to go through a divorce in this way. You and your spouse may have been facing long standing issues that led to the divorce and made the process full of conflict. Were you and your spouse at odds over seemingly every issue in your case?
If so, there may be a temptation to allow those hurt feelings to carry over into your post-divorce life. It would be easy for you to ruin the visitation experience of your children with the other parent. However, you need to know that if you want your children to be able to make it through these visitation experiences with happy memories then it is up to you and your ex-spouse to ensure that this happens.
Both of you need to be on the same page and to understand that both of you have an equal right to have relationships with the children and to spend time with them. Neither one of you is a superior parent. Even though you all may share time with the kids unevenly, with one of you being able to spend more time with them, neither of you is the lead parent. Both of you share responsibilities with the other and rely on the other to be the parent that your children need. It may be tough to think about it in these terms but you all still a team even though you just spend months divorcing one another.
What are some achievable goals for you and your ex-spouse to implement?
I find that sometimes parents come out of a divorce like a rocket ship- propelled by the desire to do everything that they can for their kids. There is no gift too expensive, no kind words that shouldn’t be given and nothing too difficult for them to give. However, I would argue that it is not always the best thing for your kids to get everything their heart desires immediately after the divorce. The initial thrill of constantly getting, getting, getting can paper over their actual feelings of hurt and sometimes even anger. Rather than delaying the pain of dealing with these issues, I would attack them early on once your divorce has been finalized.
A person that I have a great deal of respect for is fond of saying that as a parent, your goal is not to raising good kids. Rather, your goal should be to raise good adults. It is all well and good to have the child who is seemingly quiet and well-behaved. You may even find that your hair greys at a slower rate because of it. However, if those kids are either distracted because you have bought every handheld video game under the sun for them or are quiet because they are despondent at losing the family they loved, that is not a good thing.
For the sake of your children (and their future spouses) I would recommend that you and your ex-spouse coordinate your efforts to ensure that your kids have a shot at a healthy and happy children that will allow them to grow up into health, happy adults. Do not underestimate the little things when it comes to raising kids. You would be surprised to learn how much your children observe by being in the home with you. Seeing how you treat people, even an ex-spouse, can have a profound impact on how your children are being raised.
Encourage visitation with your ex-spouse to your kids
You need to approach visitation with your ex-spouse in a positive manner. Again, this does not mean that you need to constantly trumpet the greatness of your ex-spouse. Nobody expects you to be a cheerleader for your ex-spouse. However, you can treat him or her with respect and make sure that your kids understand that it is important that they have a relationship with both parents. Do not degrade your ex-spouse- no matter how good it would make you feel in that moment.
The fact is that your children are going to have visitation with your ex-spouse for a long time coming. Even if they are in high school, your kids will have years of going back and forth between houses in order to see both you and your other parent. This can become tedious and emotionally difficult if your kids think that you do not want them to go see your ex-spouse or if you make it clear that you do not support their having a relationship with him or her.
I think the best thing that you can do in relation to your kids and your ex-spouse is to be as supportive as you can be. Somewhere between telling the kids that you hate your ex-spouse’s guts and telling them that your ex-spouse is the greatest thing since sliced bread seems appropriate. If you tend to go towards either extreme it is possible that your child could be confused and become disenchanted with visiting with either parent. That is the last thing that you want to see happen.
Encourage your child to enjoy spending time with the other parent
This starts will affirming your child’s love for you and your other parent. Just because you and your ex-spouse got divorced does not mean that it is time to help your child to play favorites. Children are pretty adept at pitting their parents against each other to get what they want. You should not do anything to help further your efforts to do so. If you can put up a united front with your ex-spouse to help maintain consistency in parenting, then you are off to a good start.
If you repeat anything to your kids it should be that it is normal and appropriate that they love both you and your ex-spouse. This is where you need to be able to explain to them that just because you and their other parent are no longer married does not mean that this changes anything about the love both of you have for your kids. You may be surprised to learn that your kids may think that because you got divorced that you do not care about them as much. Sometimes kids even think that they were the cause of the divorce.
If you can show your kids that it is appropriate to love both of their parents then you are off to a great start in your post-divorce life. Be careful how you speak about your ex-spouse in front of the kids. How you feel about your ex-spouse will have a significant impact about how your child feels about him or her. You may be angry inside, but don’t let that anger impact your ability to parent your children. Part of parenting is modeling healthy and appropriate behavior towards the people in their lives.
If not love, then certainly respect should be shown towards your ex-spouse
I have seen some spouses in divorce cases show legitimate love and affection for their ex-spouse. Despite all the hardships that these folks put each other through they are still able to express love for one another. These type of people encourage me. It takes a big man or woman to be able to set aside their differences and acknowledge that there is plenty to love about ex-spouse. That just because their marriage is over does not mean that they cannot appreciate the impact that each of them has had on the other spouse’s life.
This brings me to how the can positively impact your children. If you show respect towards an ex-spouse then this provides a number of teachable moments for your kids. Number one, it shows the kids that they, too, should love their other parent. If you were named as the parent who has the right to determine the primary residence of your kids then you will be given more time with them as a result. It would be easy for you to use this time to harp on your kids about how bad your ex-spouse is. This would be terribly unproductive, however.
Remember- just because you can say something bad about an ex-spouse doesn’t mean that you should. Your final decree of divorce likely includes some provision that bars you from doing so. This means that you may face potential legal impacts of bad-mouthing your ex-spouse in front of the kids if he or she would happen to hear about it. Kids tend to repeat things without thinking about them so the odds of your ex-spouse finding out about what you said are pretty high.
Another thing that I will mention to clients is that it takes more effort and burns more calories to be rude and disrespectful to another person than it does to be cordial and respectful. Even looking the other way is a better reaction than yelling or screaming at your ex-spouse when you are exchanging the kids for visitation sessions. If you are so mad at this person wouldn’t it make sense to want to expend as little energy as possible in dealing with him or her? You do not need to go to an extreme (one way or the other) when dealing with an ex-spouse. Be polite and respectful. It makes you look good, it helps your child understand that is ok to love both parents and takes less energy than being a negative, spiteful ex-spouse.
Be consistent when it comes to parenting
If you and your ex-spouse can follow these rules then you will be off to a great start. Consistency and stability are two things that are missing from your child’s life in the wake of a divorce. That doesn’t have to always be the case but it is invariably true that your child’s life will change in some regard in relation to your divorce. Why not seek to be a person that your child can look up to when it comes to dealing with difficult circumstances?
How to make visitation work well for your family- tomorrow’s blog post topic
If you have any questions about the material we talked about 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and to receive direct feedback about your own particular circumstances.