Getting a divorce with kids has additional layers of complexity than getting a divorce without kids. You not only need to think about how YOU will cope with the process, but also the welfare of your children.
Regardless of a child’s age, divorce can create a lot of anxiety, sadness, stress and confusion. But there are things you can do to make the process easier on your children – and yourself.
What to consider before divorcing with kids
While no one can predict how your separation will play out or how you or other parties will react, a little divorce preparation for what might happen will help you make more sound decisions during the process.
The main thing to consider is that children need support and reassurance, rather than conflict. The relationship you have with your ex-partner (or ex-partner-to-be) will have a strong bearing on whether you’ll experience conflict. Regardless of whether you do or not, children shouldn’t have to witness parents arguing.
Some other things to consider:
- What other events are impacting them, from the loss of a loved pet to changing schools?
- How stable will you be financially if you choose to move out and be primary carer for the children?
- Will the divorce require school changes and a new friend group?
- What ages are your children? Different ages will react and cope with separation in different ways.
These are just a few of the things to start to consider before getting a divorce with kids, or if you’re in the early stages of divorce.
Who gets the kids in a divorce?
Who gets custody of the children is often on the top of most parents’ minds when faced with separation. But it’s not always a straight forward process. Some parents may come to their conclusion via an informal negotiation, others using a mediator, or they may end up requiring a judge in a family court. This will come down to how you and your ex-partner want to proceed.
Always seek legal advice before proceeding, even if you’re choosing pro se litigation.
This will then result in a custody agreement or parenting agreement. There are different types of child custody arrangements, including joint custody, sole custody, visitation rights, legal custody and more.
It is possible that a court will change a decision if the parents agree, but the court will always review the agreement with the best interests of the children in mind.
What factors does a court consider in deciding child custody?
Undoubtedly, when contemplating divorce with children you can feel anxious wondering what the outcome of a child custody case might be. Knowing what a court looks at to help determine its decision can be helpful. A few things a judge will look at, include:
- The relationship between the child and parent, and even the child’s preference
- A parent’s living situation
- Age of the children, with younger children sometimes awarded to the mother
- How supportive a parent is with their children’s relationship with the other party
When it comes to getting a divorce with kids, generally speaking, the younger the children are, the bigger the decisions you’ll make.
Parental access rights and child support after divorce
Whatever the child support agreement says is what you must follow until the child reaches adult age. So if the other parent gets shared custody or regular and unsupervised visitation rights, this will remain until the child comes of age or there is a reason to limit them.
That document will also outline child support. This will differ depending on the type of custody you or your partner has. For example, someone with sole custody will receive child support payments from the other parent, usually based on the partner’s income.
However, if you have joint custody, then the percentage of time each parent spends with the child will determine the amount.
It’s important to look into your State’s guidelines and/or talk to a local legal professional, as you’ll find guidelines differ in different areas.
How to be the best co-parent you can be for your children
You play a key part in what the divorce experience is like for your child. Getting a divorce with kids means you’re always considering other people in your decisions.
The biggest thing is do not use your child as a pawn. Often, a hurt parent will use their child to get back at the other parent. Other times they ask a child to spy on the other parent or to send messages.
These messages can then further break down the relationship between the separating parents. This isn’t just hurting the other party, it’s hurting your child. This puts your child in an awkward situation and adds extra pressure during an already intense period for them.
The best thing you can do is give your child permission to love both parents. By not asking them to be a messenger or pawn, it avoids them ever feeling “caught in the middle” and choosing sides. A child doesn’t want to be at their weekend sports game and worrying they’ll make one parent feel bad if they say hi to the other parent.
As a parent, reassure your child that it’s OK to love both parents. Let them know you are divorcing but you still love them the exact same. Let them know they can love you both the exact same way, even though as parents you no longer love each other.
Sure, communication with an ex-partner can be challenging, especially in these early days. However, if you can aim to confirm plans with your ex-partner that involve them or the child as soon as you’re able, you’ll create less friction for all.
Never bad mouth the other parent to your children – or anywhere near your children. Sometimes the other parent can disappoint your child, like breaking a promise or commitment. It’s a great time to remind your child that the other parents loves them, even though this has happened. Don’t be the one to fall into opportunities like this to bad mouth the other.
Because divorce can feel quite chaotic, finding ways to continue life as normal can help create security for children. It can be simple things like how you always visit their grandmother on Sundays, eat tacos on Tuesdays, or visit a park Friday afternoons. If you’ve always done these things, keep doing them.
How to tell kids about divorce
One of the hardest things you may have to face when getting a divorce with children is actually telling your kids about your divorce. There are a few things you can do to make the process a little easier for yourself and your children. They include:
- Make sure you and your partner speak to the children together about your decision to divorce (where possible).
- Have all the children present, so they’re all hearing the same message at the same time. Having one child know and the others overhearing it can create unnecessary friction between siblings.
- Plan out what you’re going to say, so you can get your message across clearly, concisely and calmly.
- Choose a time when everyone is calm. Never choose to tell them in the heat of an argument or when you’re feeling upset.
- Anticipate what questions or anxieties they may have and how you’re going to handle those together.
Helping your child through a divorce
Telling your children isn’t where it ends. Next you need to support them.
As you deal with a raft of new emotions yourself, understand that your child is now going through their own emotional journey too. Focus on being there for your child.
Some days that may feel like a hard ask.
Sometimes as a parent you may feel so emotional about the divorce, you’re stuck in your own anger, sadness or grief. You may question how you can comfort your child when you’re having a really hard time yourself or are feeling depleted.
Or maybe it’s the other extreme. Some parents are 100% checked out of the divorce and don’t even recognize this as an issue. They think they’re fine, so why is their child not fine too.
All kids will need you to reassure them that both parents still love them. Find ways to bring more stability and consistency into their world. If a child needs to sleep in bed with you for a bit, embrace the extra snuggle time. If a child needs to vent, talk or cry, let them know it’s OK.
No matter how you might be feeling about the divorce right now, your child is hurting too. In fact, they may even be feeling confused, guilty, sad or abandoned in response to the divorce. Often, you’ve had a little more time to process the divorce, while it’s a new concept for them. So find a way to be there for them.
Help your child grieve the divorce
There are different ways you can help your child grieve or process the emotions they’re experiencing as a result of getting a divorce.
The first thing you can do is notice their moods and encourage them to talk. Then listen to them.
Try and encourage them to express their feelings. That may even require you to find words for them that help articulate those feelings. It’s actually quite normal for a child to feel challenged when sharing feelings, because they don’t always know how best to express them. In other cases, they may fear hurting you if they say how they feel. Let them know it’s OK.
You’re not always going to be able to fix their problems or take away their sadness, but as long as they know you’ve heard them and understood them, that’s the important part.
This is the best thing you can do to help your children grieve their loss and adjust to a new way of family life.
Professional help for kids following divorce
Many kids will move through divorce with few problems. But in some cases your child may require a deeper level of help.
It’s perfectly normal for your child to have some anxiety and even mild depression. As long as you start to see improvements over time.
The issue needs further help by a child and family therapist or psychologist when the child remains in a state of anger, rage or resentment.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help for your child early if you feel it’s necessary. Our Privately Preparing For Divorce workshop also includes advice from a child therapist.
Next steps in getting a divorce with kids
Divorce is never a seamless process, but preparation can help. Whether you divorce without kids or with, The Complete How To Prepare For Divorce Checklist will guide you in checking off every area of your life to help you come out the other side of divorce with the life you want. Download your divorce preparation checklist.