Before you begin your divorce it is wise to consider how you are going to parent your children during the case. There isn't much information out there that touches on this subject (at least that I could find) so I wanted to share with you some pieces of advice that I have cobbled together through my years of being a family law attorney and parent. We spend a great deal of time on this blog talking about the law and how it applies to your family, but spend relatively little time discussing how everything impacts your ability to parent.
Today I am going to try and save you some heartache and problems of all sorts by sharing some tips that you can implement to avoid mistakes in parenting and managing a divorce. While not all of these pieces of advice may be relevant to you, I believe that many of them will be.
If you are moving, do so with your child in mind
It is unavoidable in most cases that either you or your spouse will be moving out of the family home as a result of the divorce. In many instances, the move will come before the beginning of the divorce. Your home environment may be so toxic an inhospitable that you need to leave for the sake of your children and yourself. In other instances, you will be ordered to leave the house due to your spouse being awarded temporary exclusive possession of the home.
Either way, if you are leaving the home you need to be aware that wherever you choose to move needs to be a place that your child will feel comfortable in. Here is where we need to walk a fine line. On the one hand, I just said that your new residence needs to be a place that your child feels comfortable living in. That means you shouldn’t pick the cool condo downtown with the great view if you have four kids that will be coming over in a few weeks for their first visit since the start of your divorce.
Your choice in a new home needs to be a blend between affordability and practicality. Your children will begin to feel comfortable in your new home the more time they spend there. It doesn’t have to the prettiest house in the world. All it has to be is a place where you can house your children during the times you have them and place where they are safe. Everything else is just gravy on the biscuit.
You should treat your children the same way you would have you remained in the family home. Do not treat your children any differently just because you are in a new home. This would be enough to cause the children to feel even more out of place than they normally would. Rather, assign your children chores (age-appropriate) just like you would at home, discipline the kids just like you would at home and then play with the kids just like you would at home. If you can manage to do all of these things you will have found the sweet spot for parenting in a new environment.
Let your kids be kids and don’t involve them in the process of your divorce
Your children are such a big part of your life that it would be easy to let the divorce case begin to bleed over into your parenting of your kids. It does make sense on some levels to keep your children informed about the case just so they are not completely clueless about what you and their other parent are going through.
However, the individual facts and circumstances associated with your divorce do not necessarily need to be shared with your children. First of all- they are children. They do not have the mental faculties to process all of the circumstances of your case. Even teenaged children have never dealt with the things you are dealing with. They are not prepared to handle what you are going through. The last thing you want to do is cause them stress unduly.
Another huge part of this discussion is that your court orders will bar you from saying negative things about your spouse to your children or from involving them in the case. The best thing to do would be to keep them up to date on the progress being made. You can let them know how close you are to the end of the case and what steps need to be taken to complete your divorce.
You do not need to share a timeline because you don’t know how much longer you have or what could happen to delay your case without notice.
The other thing that I see parents doing, especially with older kids, is using the kids as messengers. Having your child give updates to your spouse during the divorce is not a good thing to do. Telling your child partial information on a subject causes them to wonder and worry about the significance of the message that he or she may be relaying for you. Also, depending on the reaction that your spouse has to the message, your child may feel like he or she has caused their parent pain. You can avoid this problem by communicating directly with your spouse and not using your child as a means to do so.
Be careful with what you say about your spouse in front of the kids
You may be in a position where you are livid with the actions and decisions of your spouse. You may feel that this divorce was caused entirely by him or her and that you are the innocent party in all of this. Even if you completely justified in feeling this way you need to be careful about voicing your negative opinions about your spouse in front of your children. Not only does this violate the court orders but it can also be a huge impediment to your children transitioning into their lives post-divorce.
Remember that your children are not exposed to varying viewpoints like an adult is. They go to school and they interact with children and teachers there, but then they come home and have you and your spouse as role models. As such, they value what you have to say perhaps more than you might think. As a result, you need to be able to take this to heart and start to value what you have to say as much as your children do.
The other thing that I will take note of is that what you say about another person is not necessarily reflective of him or her, but more reflective of yourself and your character. Think about all the times in your own life that you have heard another person speak badly of a person who is not in the room. Does the person talk ever look like an upstanding, honorable person? I'm willing to bet not. Most of the time when I hear another person talking about someone who's not within earshot, I just wish he or she would stop talking. Don't let your children see the worst side of you in badmouthing their other parent. They probably feel caught in the middle of you and your spouse to a great extent already and hearing you say negative things will only add to that problem.
Let your ex-spouse live their life
It is normal to be at the very least curious about the goings-on of your ex-spouse. After all- that person was your partner in life for an extended period, the other parent to your child (although that hasn't changed) and recently went through a trying ordeal with you. Now you are left with questions about how the marriage failed, what happens next and what will happen to you. Wanting to know how your ex-spouse is handling the situation is understandable.
However, you would be best served to not ask your children for those updates. First of all, your children are not going to be very accurate at the relaying of messages especially if they are younger. To test this idea of mine out, go ahead and ask your five years old what happened at school today. I can almost guarantee their answer will be about 10% truth and 90% fantasy. Kids are just not very good at recalling information that has to do with emotions or occurrences. If you want to know about one specific event they may do ok, but a series of events or something like that will be difficult for them. Why bother asking, in that case?
The other thing that you need to keep in mind is that you don’t stand to benefit much from asking questions about what your ex-spouse is up to. If you find out that your ex-spouse is doing great then you will likely not feel great for him or her but will feel worse about yourself. On the other hand, if he or she is doing poorly, you will likely take some amount of satisfaction in that. This is probably not the way you want to appear to yourself or your children. So why not just let your ex-spouse live their life and you can do the same?
You are sharing possession of your children with your ex-spouse- remember that
Your children are your children, but they are also your ex-spouse's kids. Meaning: do not act as if you are the only parent that matters. At all times, their other patent matters, as well. You should take advantage of every moment that is made available to you but do lose sight of the fact that your ex-spouse has just as much right to have their time with your kids, too. As such, do not abuse your possession schedule and run over on your time. Taking your child to your ex-spouse thirty minutes late continually is not only disrespectful of your ex-spouse, but it also puts you in violation of your court orders.
The earlier in the process that you can realize that your ex-spouse has just as big of a role to play in raising your children as you do, the better off you will be. This doesn't mean that you have to drop the kids off early at the other parent's. This does not mean that you need to run every planned activity with your children through another parent to make sure he or she knows what is going on. What it does mean is that you are best off being respectful of the other parent. This takes little effort but does require that you be aware of other people and their needs. Even the needs of a person that you just finished getting a divorce from.
Remember that your divorce is in the past- treat it that way
Your divorce is in the past and should not be re-litigated. You may need to come back to the courthouse in the future to deal with issues that arise in the future, but what led to the divorce, the divorce itself and the immediate period after the conclusion of your divorce needs to be set aside and not brought up time and time again. Tomorrow's blog post will begin by focusing on this topic.
Questions about divorce in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material that we shared 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 to speak with an experienced attorney who can provide you specific feedback about your case as well as answers to your questions.
We work in the family courts of southeast Texas every day and do so with a great deal of pride. Our work is done on behalf of our clients who in reality are the people we consider neighbors and members of our community as well. Thank you for your time and consideration.