When couples consider whether or not to divorce, a major consideration is how the breakup will affect their children. As parents, our kids are our top priority and we want what is best for them. Many couples even consider sticking it out and staying married solely for the sake of their kids. While their intent might be noble, staying in an unhappy marriage is never a good idea. Although you should consider all the ramifications of divorce before moving forward with the process, remaining in a relationship that is truly broken eventually will cause more harm than good.
Even though they have two parents around, your children are not benefiting from witnessing their parents constantly disagree and bicker. They would be better served seeing both parents work through the divorce process like mature adults and continuing to cooperate in order to effectively co-parent. In fact, while children of divorce face physical and mental health risks, research indicates it actually is the parental conflict they are exposed to during the course of the divorce that causes harm rather than the actual event of the breakup.
Therefore, once you and your spouse decide divorce is unavoidable, it is your responsibility to do whatever you can to shield them from any disagreements that might arise between the two of you during the divorce process.
Avoid Arguing in Front of Them
First and foremost, your children should never be around parental conflict. Ideally, you can transition through divorce amicably and remain on good terms, but divorce is an emotionally draining experience. As you sort through issues involving division of property, child custody, child support, and alimony, it is likely that at least a couple disagreements are going to arise.
Do Not Vent to Your Kids
As you are dealing with the stress of your divorce, you might be tempted to vent your frustrations to your children. As children grow older, they want to be supportive of their parents, and they might even offer to listen while you let off steam. No matter how overwhelmed you might feel, do not put them in this awkward position. They are caught in the middle between two parents whom they love and should not have to choose sides.
Consider how you would feel if you found out that your spouse was badmouthing you to your children during this process. That can eventually lead to parental alienation, which can result in serious psychological and emotional problems and can even impact your child custody case, according to Cordell & Cordell family law attorney Cassandra Pillonel.
“It’s more and more recognized by the courts,” Ms. Pillonel said. “Courts are taking action to correct and remediate issues of parental alienation.”
If your divorce is starting to feel overwhelming, you should not internalize your feelings, but using your kids as a sounding board is not the answer. Reach out to trusted friends or family to talk or consider enlisting the help of a professional counselor or therapist who can help you stay grounded as you navigate this difficult life transition.
Do Not Deny Parenting Time
Whatever hard feelings you might harbor toward your ex, it is in your children’s best interest to have two engaged and loving parents involved in their lives. There are mountains of research showing that shared parenting is the best post-divorce custody arrangement for children, so even though you naturally want to spend as much time with them as possible, you need to recognize the importance of giving them plenty of time with the other parent.
Effective communication is a key to good co-parenting, so work with your ex to come up with a system that works for both of you. Flexibility is critical as you both learn to adjust to your new family dynamic. Even if you feel you are deserving of more time with the kids, you should never prevent your children from engaging in parenting time with their other parent barring extenuating circumstances. Not only does that worsen your co-parenting relationship, but it puts you in contempt of court if you knowingly violate a court-ordered parenting plan.
Joseph E. Cordell is Principal Partner and Co-Founder of Cordell & Cordell and founder of DadsDivorce.com and MensDivorce.com.