WASHINGTON, August 14, 2016 — Every person getting a divorce would agree that the children come first. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work out that way, because ego and self-concern often intervene.
Full disclosure: the author is divorced, had children, and didn’t do as well as he would have liked.
After reviewing numerous resources, however, a divorced man or woman can develop both a tolerable existence with an ex and children who are mostly happy and well adjusted. But people with kids who are divorcing need to plan.
When a divorce is messy, the natural consequence is that trust between the divorcing parents takes a hit. Experts say that when it comes to children, divorcing parents must learn to assume the best about their ex-spouses and to assume good intentions. When a spouse brings the kids back home late, changes a schedule at the last minute, or makes a questionable parenting choice, an assumption that what happened was done with good intent or for a good reason is the much preferred response. It will produce better long term results than assuming that the ex is irresponsible, disrespectful or purposely annoying. If good intent is assumed until shown otherwise, the relationship will be adapt for the better and stress levels will remain within the healthy range.
Children before parent
The airline folks tell passengers that if an emergency occurs, they should cover their own mouths with the drop-down mask before they go to put the mask on their kids. The thought is that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Fair enough, but not so much when dealing with children on a regular basis.
Clearly, we should take care of ourselves. But not at the kids’ expense. Divorcing parents must learn how to deal with their own issues in a constructive way that resolves those issues, balancing that process by putting their children’s needs first. Personal issues should be dealt with on the parent’s own time. Managing feelings and emotions in the presence of children is the first priority.
Acrimonious splits can result in high tension. Certainly everyone can tell a story about why their ex was “the worst.” People never want to see or hear from the ex and some even cringe when the ex’s name is uttered. There is always some level of resentment.
Experts say, basically, “Get over it.” The children are the priority, and functional communication with the ex is 1000 percent necessary.
Best global plan
Co-parenting is the best option. Dropping out and allowing the ex to do everything is a sure way to end up with kids who grow up messed up and full of resentment—not to mention that not being involved their children’s lives deprives a divorced parent of the most significant continuing joy one can experience in this world.
Co-parenting assures children that their parents love them, and it tremendously improves the odds that these children will grow up possessing greater self-esteem. Further, co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline and rewards between households, so children know at all times what to expect and what is expected of them. Children who observe their parents working together learn from that example.
The three-part Golden Rule from every expert is:
- NEVER vent to your children;
- NEVER talk negatively about your ex to your children; and
- NEVER use your children as messengers.
Try talking to friends (if they let you, which, of course runs the risk of losing them as friends), therapists or even a pet if you need to talk to someone or something.
The best plan is a written plan
Planning is crucial because children are highly vulnerable during and after a divorce process. Their security and “attachment” needs must be addressed. Children’s concerns and needs cannot wait “until the dust settles” after a divorce. According to many experts, the first six months or so that follow a divorce will set the tone for the new family arrangement. For that reason, all things that are done must be done keeping the children’s best interests in mind.
Ultimately, children will need time to figure out “the new normal” because their parents have changed the rules. Parents only get one chance to do it right. The transition period immediately after the separation will provide or fail to provide highly needed stability.
Children are smart. They are not going to believe what is said. They will believe what they see, what their parents actually do. They must see cooperation.
The first and most critical key to creating a new normal is planning for it. A written parenting plan is a roadmap. Its creation should begin the moment it is clear the divorce is going to take place.
Attorneys all agree that the more detailed an agreement is, the more likely it is that somehow, one of the parties will find a way to violate it. That said, a parenting plan should be detailed and should include “what ifs” and “hows” for handling numerous situations. It should set out specific terms and conditions and should address common situations that leave no room for “innocent” confusion or misunderstanding. It cannot however, answer every concern. For that reason, a good plan will have a dispute resolution process.
A plan will impact the children now, in five years, in ten years, and in twenty years. Actions taken at this point can have long-term consequences. Want proof? How many people find themselves in a psychologist’s office talking about their parents later in life?
Here are some topics divorcing couples should consider when putting together a good, workable parenting plan:
Who has the children, and when? Visitation times, frequencies, and changes in schedules will ALWAYS happen and should be addressed. Experts say it is better to drop off children rather than pick them up. Picking up can be disruptive and foster a “being taken away” feeling for the children.
Visitation by grandparents, aunts and uncles. These extended family members can provide stability, but must be schooled on Rule 1, addressed above: No badmouthing of either parent, ever.
Rules and discipline. These should be similar in both households. Behavior that was unacceptable pre-divorce should still be unacceptable and should not now “slide” in one household to the disadvantage of the other.
Talk/meet. There should be a consistent, agreed-upon time to talk and/or meet with each other to discuss and plan for occasions and events involving the children. Dispute resolution is important, because topics and concerned not initially raised will always come up.
Medical needs, and general “big issue” decision-making.
School concerns. Which schools should the children attend? Who attends parent-teacher conferences? Extra-curricular activities?
New “significant other” and step-parent issues. What kind of involvement, limits and boundaries should be set?
An agreement with an ex can be made at any time and changed at any time. Because such an agreement was not made before or during the divorce process and because years have gone by after the divorce does not mean an agreement cannot still be made. Having a written plan, once again, is very important as it provides a rational basis for discussion.
If today’s divorce rate is, as some have said, over fifty percent in the U.S., then the issues noted above are among the most important issues over half of all people will eventually have to reconcile. People have kids. If and when a divorce is looming and even after if takes place, always recall why those kids were created.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.
Samakow has now also started a small business consulting firm. His new book “Step By Step, Achieve Small Business Success” is available at www.thebusinessanswer.com.