Divorce can be—and usually is—difficult and expensive, both financially and emotionally. Having minor children almost always increases both the financial and emotional toll of a divorce. How do you help prepare them for divorce?
Every marriage is different, every divorce is different and the costs emotional and financial are different as well. So you will need to periodically step back and analyze how to proceed in your divorce action.
I am not a mental health professional, I have no training in therapy, counseling or anything similar to it. To best assist your minor children in a divorce proceeding, it may be helpful (sometimes even necessary) to consult a therapist or counselor to help children cope with the effects of divorce. What I offer here is some advice on how to prepare your children to deal with legal side of a divorce.
Should you talk to your kids about the court proceeding? Often in a divorce involving children litigation can get intense. Even when both parties are good parents and there are no allegations of abuse, the parties will unfortunately feel they are losing control and start to sling mud. Whether the allegations are true or not it will still be difficult emotionally. While I do not know the psychological effects on children when they see, hear, and read the mudslinging, I do know the courts in Utah generally do not want your children to be involved (I disagree with them to an extent, but that’s a different matter).
It is easy to say before the divorce proceedings start that you will not involve your children, but what about when your spouse starts telling lies? When one party starts spreading rumors directly to children, or more commonly stands by as someone else is spreading rumors, it is very tempting to defend your good name and/or give in to the temptation to fight fire with fire (i.e., to tell your children how your spouse is really the problem, or to try and explain what the judge said or why he ruled the way he did, etc.). I suggest you tread cautiously. Judges generally hate it when parents talk to their minor children about their divorce proceedings, even if it is simply to clarify the record. You may think you are defending your name, or trying to explain to your children what the truth is, but it may result in the judge or commissioner chastising you. Or it could lead to the custody evaluator finding you “unfit” or lacking in good character and leading to a custody recommendation against your interest. So the rule of thumb is to avoid talking to the kids about what happens in the court room and between the lawyers.
Comply with the orders of the court that apply to your children. This may seem simple, and should be obvious. But time and time again a party to a divorce refuses to follow the orders of the court. This can be in regards to something financial (child support, health insurance, out-of –pocket medical expenses), or can be in regards to parent-time/custody or orders not to disparage the other parent to the children or alienate the children from the other parent. Even if you do not agree with the order of the court (or recommendation from the Commissioner) follow it. If you have good reason to seek to modify the order, or have filed an objection with the court, you still need to follow the existing order unless and until it changes. Disobeying the court’s order will undoubtedly hurt you in a divorce action which will also hurt your children.
What if my own children are trying to get me to violate court orders? Sometimes your children may want you to violate court orders to demonstrate your “loyalty” to them (i.e., asking you to let them to stay longer with you for a weekend). Other times a child might be trying to sabotage your case and try to “frame” you for violating a court order (such as a child who falsely accuses you of abuse). If your children are trying to get you to violate the order or set you up, make a clear record:
- Tell your spouse (in writing) the children want to stay an extra few hours or extra day and ask if he/she will allow it. If your spouse consents (in writing), then you are in the clear. If your spouse refuses, then obey the court order. It’s permissible to tell the children that you asked for extra time and that you and mommy/daddy didn’t agree; just don’t use this fact as an opportunity to demonize mommy or daddy.
- Tell your spouse (in writing) that Jenny falsely claimed you hit her over the weekend in an attempt to blackmail you or damage your reputation, etc., and that you would appreciate your spouse standing with you in a united front against such antics (and remind your spouse that a child that will lie for you will lie to you or against you). Obviously this won’t guarantee you nip bad behavior in the bud or guarantee an alibi, but it’s far better than doing nothing.
Showing respect for the existing orders of the court and helping your children to follow the existing order will help your children.
Do not discuss the divorce or fight in front of the children with your spouse: This may also seem obvious and most parents have the desire not to fight in front of children. But when parents do fight in front of the children, it usually occurs when one parent wants to change something or ask a question that is meant to be simple. The other parent reacts differently than expected and the next thing you know, you are that couple that is yelling at each other in the fast food parking lot. The fix to this is simple: don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Ever. We live in an age where security cameras and smartphones with video cameras are everywhere. We also live in an age where you can email and/or text message at almost any time. So send your requests in a written format. It avoids personal fights in front of the children and gives you both a written record to rely upon.
While this is not an exhaustive list and does not cover the psychological mine field of divorce and children, these tips should help you in the courtroom. Refuse to fight in front of your kids, refrain from discussing the legalities of divorce with your kids, and follow the orders of the court. You will better your courtroom experience, and lessen the stress in your children’s lives. It’s easier said than done, but better done than not.