7 Tips for Putting Children First in a Divorce

A child-centered divorce is a divorce where the parents keep the physical and emotional needs of their children as their primary concern. In a child-centered divorce, every decision the parents make is through that lens – How will this affect our children? What is important to our kids, now and in the future? Most parents intend to do what is best for their children, but their perspectives may be different. Wise parents understand that they may not know what is best for their children in this situation because they may not have ever gone through a divorce before.

Here are some tips for putting children first in a divorce to protect your children from the adverse effects of your divorce and to keep their best interest at the top of your list of priorities.

1. Tell the Children About the Divorce Together:
When you are ready to talk to them about the divorce, tell them together and be well prepared. Talk with and coordinate that event with your spouse so that you will be on the same page about how you’re going to tell the children that your marriage is ending. I intentionally use the word “event,” because this is an event that your children will remember for the rest of their lives, so it is important, even critical, that you handle it with as much care as you can. This is one of the greatest teaching moments of your lives as parents. How you manage this moment will affect your children’s future as much or more than the fact that you are getting divorced.

2. Only Tell Them What They Need to Know:
It can be difficult not to tell them more than they need to know or answer their questions with specific information, but telling them that this is an adult problem, that you are both going to continue to love them just as your both do now and that you are all going to be ok will be reassuring. Children are naturally focused on how this is going to affect them, but if you stand firm that you are the parents, and while this is a challenge, you are going to work together, take care of them and everyone is going to be alright, that is usually all they want to know. Some parents may think they have to tell the children “the truth” about why the marriage is ending, but just as you would not discuss your sex life with your children, there are some things that should not be discussed in front or with the children. This is true whether your children are 3 years old or 30 years old.

3. Try Not to Seem Obsessed with or Talk Constantly About the Divorce in Front of the Children:
After you have told the children about the divorce, don’t fuel their continued worry by constantly talking about it in front of them. Don’t let this situation define you and don’t let it define your children. That is an important lesson for them to learn, and this is a great opportunity for them to learn it.  If your children ask about the divorce, continue to tell them that you and their other parent and the experts in this are working on how their family will be restructured, and that you will let them know when there is information that they need to know.

4. Don’t Talk Disrespectfully About Your Spouse in Front of the Children:
Never talk disrespectfully about your spouse in front of the children, whether it is directly to them or to others in their presence. No matter what you think of their other parent, the children are a part of that parent and it will damage their self-image if you speak ill of their other parent.  Remember you are the adult and no matter what the other side or their family or friends do, you have the choice to act in your children’s best interest. There is a quote from the movie, “Mr. Mom” that says, “It is easy to forget what’s important- so DON’T.” Never forget that keeping your children’s best interest as your top priority will always be the right decision.

5. Assess and Offer Additional Support for the Children:
Not every child whose parents are going through a divorce needs therapy, but many do need some extra support. Some schools still have Banana Splits groups, where they can be with their peers and just talk about what it’s like to have their parents going through a divorce. Some children will benefit from having their own therapist to talk to about their concerns and fears or depending on the age of the children, play therapy may be the best option or have their own therapist. In New York City, the group FamilyKind has created a support group for adult children of divorce. Not every child of divorce needs therapy, but it helps to have somebody to talk to that’s not a family member.

6. Choose the Collaborative Divorce Process or Mediation:
Of all the options to get a divorce, these processes are the ones that give parents the best opportunity to make sure that their children are their first consideration in the course of the divorce. In the Collaborative Divorce process, in particular, the parents AND the professionals around the table have all made a commitment to put the children’s interests first. As a Collaborative lawyer, I am always thinking about the kids—they’re emotionally in the room with us. If the parents aren’t bringing them up, one of the professionals is bound to. The parents and the children have all this extra support–the whole process supports it. Sometimes I’ve had mediation or collaborative divorce clients bring photos of their kids to the meetings and put them in the middle of the table. Just so there’s no way we can forget what this is all about. I’ve never seen that done in any other kind of divorce negotiation.

7. Plan for the Children’s Future:
What happens to the children after the divorce is over will also be addressed in the Collaborative Process or Mediation, which is something that is not addressed in a court-litigated case. In the Collaborative Divorce process or Mediation everyone in the room prepares for how to resolve issues that might come up in the future. We look ahead with clients to questions such as:

  1. As the children get older, how will the parenting schedule need to change?
  2. What if one parent wants to relocate to a new home that would make the current parenting schedule difficult to maintain?
  3. How do we help the parents (and the children) prepare for the time when one of them has a new significant other?
  4. How will college be paid for?
  5. How do we design a discussion process or a dispute resolution process for the future so that these parents and their children avoid the risk going to Court?

If the parties are in the Collaborative Divorce process or Mediation, they have the creative ability and space to make their own agreement, customized to their needs and the needs of their children. A Child-Centered Divorce means that the parents of the children have worked together to prioritize the children’s needs ahead of their own. Collaborative Divorce and Mediation are the best processes for making the children your priority.

Contact Vacca Family Law Group at www.vaccalaw.com  to discuss how mediation or collaborative divorce can help you to have a child-centered divorce.  And click here to download our free e-book Divorce Without Court: A More Peaceful Solution.

In the next blog, I will discuss the 3 Common Mistakes When A Divorce is Not Child-Centered.