This is Part One of a four-part series where I will briefly recommend appropriate behaviors for parents during separation, courtroom proceedings, and following divorce. All recommendations are based on my personal experience as an attorney focusing on family law as well as the enormous body of social science research devoted to studying the effects of divorce on children.
1. Hire an experienced lawyer who devotes at least 75% of his or her practice to family law.
I can hear it already. Your first recommendation is to hire a family law attorney? Go figure! Well, it’s true. I’m not saying you must hire me. But I am strongly advising you to hire someone—someone you trust, someone experienced in matrimonial law, someone whose practice is overwhelmingly devoted to family law. The fact is your divorce is likely to be the most important interaction you will have with the legal system in your lifetime. The outcome is going to affect you and your children (and likely their children) forever. What would you do if you needed a potentially life-threatening operation? Would you Google your condition and attempt to operate on yourself? Would you put your life in the hands of the first doctor you met? Divorces are no different. The law is complex, as a short tour of this blog will show. The consequences of divorce are far reaching. There are excellent family law attorneys out there. Take the time to find the one who’s the right fit for you as soon as you start thinking about divorce. When you look back on the experience years from now, you will not regret the decision to hire the best lawyer you can. It will be well worth the expense.
2. Go to mediation as soon as possible.
The research clearly demonstrates that mediated divorces result in fewer adjustment problems for both children and parents, a shorter period required for resolution of problems, and less likelihood of post-divorce litigation.
3. Understand that two parents living apart will not see their children as often as will two parents living together.
4. Understand that the expenses of two people living apart will be greater than those of two people living together.
In my opinion, items three and four are the root causes of much post-divorce litigation.
5. Understand that time spent with the children and child support are two separate issues, neither of which has any legal connection to the other.
The parent paying child support may withhold support because he or she wants more visitation. The parent receiving child support may withhold visitation because he or she does not receive child support on a timely basis. Both actions are inappropriate and will backfire on the offending parent.
6. When appropriate, consider joint decision-making as the optimal arrangement over sole decision-making.
Parents should be able to cooperate enough to make joint decisions about the children’s education, religious upbringing, and medical treatment. Sole decision-making can sometimes lead to behavior suggesting “ownership” of the children, which tends to lead to the exclusion of the other parent.
7. Consider sharing holidays instead of alternating holidays.
When parents live in close proximity, it is important for the children to maintain contact with both sets of families and their extended families during important holidays. These opportunities help provide children lifelong positive memories of holiday times.
8. Tell your children in advance that the separation is going to take place and, if possible, do so with the other parent.
It is vitally important to prepare the children before the actual separation takes place. This information should be communicated to the children by the parents together. This tells the children that although their parents are getting divorced, they still have the capacity to work together in the children’s best interests. The explanation should not be blameworthy or pit one parent against the other. If one parent refuses to participate in the explanation process, the other parent should be as neutral as possible in the explanation.
9. Tell the children often that they are still loved and that they are not getting divorced from their parents.
Parents all too often assume that their children understand this truth, even though they are not frequently reminded. Tell your children often that they are loved. Their concern may be, “You stopped loving Mom. How do I know you won’t stop loving me?” One way to reassure children is to tell them the love between spouses is different from the love between parent and child. Although the love between spouses can fade away, there is permanency to the love between parents and their children, a love that began from the moment of birth. By contrast, the parents had to meet and fall in love, and therefore could fall out of love as well.
10. Do not move more often than necessary.
Although moving is a necessary part of the divorce process, it is important to provide stability as soon as possible for the children. Multiple moves are likely to have a detrimental effect on the children’s psychological well-being, especially if they require the children to change schools.
Stay tuned for many more “do’s.” Part Two will be posted here in the coming weeks!
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.