Planning a Divorce: A Focus on Children
She sat alone watching TV in the dark, in her now sparsely furnished living room. Her two school-age children were getting ready for bed. Soon she would go into their rooms to have their prayers, tuck them in and kiss them good night. Three days and she would have the weekend to herself as the children would be going to their father’s. Then that awful feeling of guilt set in as she thought about her free time.
Down the hall, she hears a sob she knows all too well. She looks into his room and sees him sitting on his bed in just his underwear. His PJ’s waiting to be put on. “Honey, are you ok?” she asks. His big blue eyes look up at her and he says, “Mom, I want Daddy.” She sits next to him on his bed and hugs him tight as she explains it is bedtime and that in three days he will get to see his Daddy for the whole weekend. Nothing she says helps. She thinks about her phone sitting on the kitchen counter and doesn’t’ know what to do.
It takes two mature people who have decided that in spite of their differences that they will put their children’s happiness ahead of theirs. It also takes a level of trust. One might stop me there and say, “Well, they should have thought of that before getting a divorce!” True, however, as we all know, there comes a time when you just can’t hold onto something that isn’t there. Then it’s time to have that conversation and answer the question, “What about the children?”
What really needs to be considered about the children? Here’s a place to start.
- Can we work together to save this marriage? Can it be a home where children thrive?
- If not, who “gets” the children?
- Who will the children live with? Who will be the custodial parent?
- How should their time be split up so that each parent has the children?
- Should this time be equally divided? Why or why not? What is reasonable?
- How should holidays be selected? Can this be negotiable?
- Can one parent interfere with activities/routine/discipline/environment that the other parent provides?
- What financial decisions need to be made about the children? Who will pay child support, medical insurance, life insurance?
- How will the children have consistency in regards to discipline and religion?
- Will one parent move away, making it more difficult for the children to see both parents? If so, who will pay for the transportation costs? Or, can the couple make the commitment to stay living in the same area until the children are old enough to travel alone?
- “Really?!?!” I can hear someone say. “How in heavens name can we have a conversation at the kitchen table when I can’t stand the sight of that SOB? I never want to see his face again, much less have a try to have a rational conversation with him!”
This is when you have to stop, take a deep breath and wait a few days. Think about your future, the future of the children. Get your emotions under control and start calculating. Develop a plan for what you want. Ask yourself what you want for your children and what you want for yourself. You may need to take some time to answer these questions. You may want to be still, quiet and alone. Find resources on divorcing with children: counselors, books, classes.
Remember, now is the time to take care of your children, your health, your finances. This is when some things have to be put in a file to think about later. You and your soon to be ex-spouse are the only ones who really know what is in the best interest of the children. Courts aren’t always the authority on this. Strive for an atmosphere of cooperation with your ex-spouse and avoid using the children as pawns to for leverage. If you can succeed at this, the children will deal with the divorce better now and in years to come.
Not everyone can do this. It does take two, after all. There are those situations where the other parent simply will not think about the children’s needs or, perhaps, have a warped idea of their wellbeing. That happens often. There’s also the problem of trust. Turning to the other parent in times of need with the children can make you vulnerable legally. For instance, the woman from the story at the beginning had a choice. Do I call her father and ask him to come over or do I tell my son he’ll have to wait to see him? If she calls the father, is she setting herself up for a custody fight? The truth is no one knows until the litigation comes, so the hard choices have to be made in the dark. In the end, either the Courts and the parents will have to decide what is in the children’s best interest.