In her memoir “Yes Please,” comedian Amy Poehler likened divorce to “spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air.” Undeniably, the end of a relationship is devastating for all involved, especially for the children of the relationship. Sometimes, parents separate with the best of intentions, promising to keep the peace for the sake of the children–with varying degrees of success. An unfortunate reality is that divorce and custody litigation is taxing on children of any age, and exposure to conflict can have lasting and serious repercussions. In fact, studies show that children exposed to a contentious divorce are more likely to struggle academically, socially, and emotionally.*
This post contains tips to decrease conflict and keep you (and your family) sane during custody litigation.
1. Be Flexible.
Life after separation is uncomfortable for both parents and children. On top of arranging separate housing and sorting such issues as payment of household bills and the sale of the family home, you and your ex must negotiate a temporary visitation schedule. This is no small order! In approaching this challenge, flexibility is key. Remember, initial temporary custody arrangements are just that—temporary—and will be fine-tuned over time. Consider taking advantage of the free custody mediation services available in some counties through Family Court Services, where a neutral mediator will help you and your ex formulate a visitation schedule.
2. Communication is Key.
Hostility strains communication. Children adjusting to divorce will benefit from their parents maintaining healthy lines of communication. While face-to-face communication with your ex may be difficult, luckily there are many alternatives. Consider designating a “family notebook” to travels in your child’s backpack or overnight bag. You and your ex can write (peaceful) notes to one another, detailing the status of homework and projects, sleep and nap schedules, snacks and meals eaten by the kids during visits, and health-related concerns. Or, consider using Our Family Wizard which is a web and app-based custody tool that helps parents with scheduling and communicating (and is frequently ordered by family court judges).
3. Choose your Words Carefully.
Think of your child as a sponge. He or she will soak up everything you say and do, especially during this unstable time. For this reason, no matter how tempting it may be, do not “vent” or criticize the other parent in the presence of your children, or discuss the ongoing litigation. To help your children understand the changes your family is undergoing, and offer a safe space for your children to discuss these changes, consider family or individual counseling.
4. Practice the Golden Rule…Even if Your Ex Doesn’t.
Treat your ex as you wish to be treated, even if he or she does not return the favor. Retaliating against your ex by withholding contact with the children will breed further tension and conflict. To that end, difficult though it may be, try to take the high road. Show respect and flexibility to your ex, even if he or she is seemingly unwilling to offer the same courtesy. Ultimately, the court will see you as the more reasonable parent.
5. Be Cautious When Introducing New Partners.
Err on the side of caution when introducing a new boyfriend or girlfriend to your children. It can be difficult for children to process the end of their parents’ marriage, and the introduction of a new partner too soon may cause confusion and anxiety. It may also heighten conflict with your children (or resentment from your ex). Even if your children adore your new partner, if the new relationship is short lived, then your children may face even more difficult change. Consider waiting until the initial uncertainty of the custody litigation—and your new relationship—has passed before introducing a new partner.
6. Go Back to School.
It’s never too late to learn. There are an abundance of parenting classes offered on a variety of topics (from parenting an infant to relating with a teenager). The courts often order one or both parties to participate in a parenting class. Consider voluntarily enrolling in a class at the beginning of the case. Not only will it impress the judge, by honing your own parenting skills, you will also develop coping mechanisms and learn to navigate conflict.
7. Be Patient and Change Will Come.
Change will not happen overnight. Separating from the parent of your child will undoubtedly cause a period of unhappiness and uncertainty. However unpleasant, this time shall pass. Be patient, and change for the better will come.
If you need help navigating your custody litigation, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri for further information. Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*Source: Children of divorce in the 1990s: An update of the Amato and Keith (1991) meta-analysis. Amato, Paul R. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 15(3), Sep 2001, 355-370.