Divorce is hard. And it can be very hard on kids. But not for the reasons you might think. The hardest thing about my parents’ divorce when I was 13 was not the divorce itself. It was the ongoing fighting and hostility in the home. And the pervasive coldness, indifference, and contempt. But most of all, it was never really knowing what might happen from one day to the next. I felt like Chicken Little, always thinking “the sky is falling…the sky is falling!” And that anxiety continued for many years.
Fortunately, now, after over 20 years as a family lawyer and mediator, I know that things can be very different for your kids. Not only can they survive divorce; they can actually thrive. Here’s the one thing that you, as divorcing parents, can do to protect the kids while saving thousands on lawyer fees…
Talk to your spouse to answer the tough questions your kids most likely have – whether or not they come right out and ask. In other words, make a list. Literally write out the answers to the following custody and parenting time questions. While communicating with your spouse might be the last thing you want to do, it’s important for your children. They need both of you, now more than ever. It’s therefore essential to isolate your personal conflict from your role as parents and answer these questions:
1. Where will the kids live most of the time? Or will they essentially have two homes?
2. Which school(s) will they attend?
3. How often and when will they spend time with each of you:
- On weekdays, weeknights and weekends during the school year?
- How will each holiday be spent?
- With which parent will the kids spend their school breaks and vacations?
4. How will decisions be made for the children’s education, medical treatment, and religious practice?
5. How will each parent receive education and health notifications and records for the children?
6. What happens if and when significant others enter the picture?
7. What happens if disagreements arise in decision-making or if the parenting time schedule needs to be changed?
If you and your spouse encounter difficulty in agreeing on any of these items, simply put those questions aside. You can revisit them at a later time or enlist the help of a mediator or your lawyer. For example, clients often ask me to coach them for a tough conversation with the other parent. This can be very helpful when you need confidence that the talk will go well.
Once you and your spouse have agreed on the answers to the above questions, you can simply have the lawyer for one of you draft up a custody and parenting time agreement and send it to the other’s lawyer. When you and your spouse have each signed the custody and parenting time agreement, your lawyer can help you determine if it would be best to send it to the court or to incorporate it as part of your divorce agreement.
At that point, you would have likely saved thousands of dollars on lawyers fighting back and forth, while giving your kids what they want and need to know to put their minds at ease. For guidance on telling your kids about the divorce, check out this post. As difficult as divorce can be, knowing your kids have the answers they need can go a long way towards easing the transition for everyone.
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