Divorce can be a complicated and stressful process for the parties involved, and it can be even more stressful when there are children of the marriage. Children sense the stress at any age no matter how civil and committed the parents are about keeping the kids out of it.
Unfortunately, many divorces involving children become high conflict as the parties fight over custody and parenting time. Sometimes Indiana trial court judges and the higher courts call parenting a “battle ground”. Remember, again, as stressful as this time is for the adults (Mom and Dad) the children, no matter how young or old, can feel the stress and pains of divorce as well.
Oftentimes, when Mom and Dad cannot get along, it is the kids that are put in the middle, being effectively forced by the parents to choose between who they want to live with or who is the better parent. Worse yet, custody battles can be fraught with allegations of abuse, neglect, or bad parenting choices, whether true, or a misconception.
This can impact the children far into adulthood and their relationships.
While some bad parenting and personal choices can have long lasting effects on the children as they grow older, this battle cannot be won and it is of key importance to remember that a child deserves to have a relationship with both Mom and Dad. The Indiana trial courts are going to order this.
Clearly, if there is a serious abuse, neglect, or another type of problem that affects one or the other parent’s ability to provide a safe environment for the child, precautions should be taken; such as limited parenting time, no overnight parenting time, or supervised parenting time. However, those options are not ideal for fostering a loving bond between parent and child, and should only be used in extreme cases. These should not be tools to gain ground.
And this is the key policy driving the Paternity and Dissolution laws in Indiana and all other states—ensuring the children’s best interests are met when the parents divorce. The important thing to remember in any divorce situation involving children is that you love your children, and so does your soon to be ex-spouse. It would be impractical to give the advice to divorcing parents to “just get along and make it work” in truth, if you could, you would probably not be getting divorced in the first place.
So then, the key to a kid-friendly divorce while it pends is: at least get along in front of your children.
Some DO’s and DON’Ts to accomplishing a kid-friendly divorce:
DO explain to the children that Mom and Dad are getting divorced together if possible.
This will help the children to understand that Mom and Dad have made the choice together (even if that is not the case) and provide the children with an opportunity to ask questions, etc.
DO explain to the children that the divorce is not their fault.
DON’T tell the children the reasons you are getting divorced.
For example: if it is because of infidelity, you may be angry at your spouse for being unfaithful, but your spouse is still a loving parent to your child, and it is important not let the children feel that they have to chose between one or the other parent.
DON’T badmouth your soon to be ex-spouse in front of the children.
Talk to your friends, family, or write in a journal, but never let your children know how you feel, they may feel forced to chose, or dislike your soon to be ex-spouse because of a loyalty to you. The children should not be the outlet for you to express your bitterness or frustrations about the other parent.
DO remember that you are the adult, and the children are the children.
It is up to you to make decisions and parent your children. They did not choose for you to get divorced, you did (or your spouse did). It is up to the parents to coordinate and communicate with one another about the children. This is especially important when it comes to parenting time and exchanges. The children should not be making these decisions or coordinating arrangements to effectuate parenting time and exchanges. This is the parent’s responsibility.
DO listen to your children and their needs.
Children are intuitive, no matter how hard you try to hide your stress, anger, or sadness about an impending divorce; they will be attuned to your feelings. Children will often show you and tell you what is going on with them. In younger children, they will ask many questions, and you and your soon to be ex-spouse should be prepared with age appropriate answers, if need be, speak with your soon to be ex-spouse about your child’s concerns.
DO take the high road.
There will be times when your soon to be ex-spouse frustrates and angers you. They may make decisions that are inconsiderate of your time, or may make parenting choices you disagree with. However, rather than retaliate in kind (i.e. he/she was 15 minutes late, causing me to be late to an appointment, I will start being 15 minutes late to everything just to get him/her back), it is always best to take the high road, make the decisions you feel good and right about, that are in the best interests of your children, and let his/her bad decisions lie as his/her own burden, not yours.
DON’T talk to your children about what was filed in court, what happens in court, or other frustrations and facts about the court case.
Please check back next week for Part 2 of How to have a Kid-Friendly Divorce – Post Divorce.
We hope that this blog post has provided you with some helpful tips on how to have a kid-friendly divorce. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori B. Schmeltzer.