What Your Children Need During the Divorce
(Provided by How to Win Child Custody)

Stability and security: That’s what your children need. If they are fine now, they’ll still need all the stability and security you can give to help them through the divorce. If they already have problems, they’ll need even more stability and security.

Your concern about the effect of divorce on your children is natural. However, just as you shouldn’t underrate it, don’t worry more than necessary. A tortured family existence prior to separation may be more harmful than the separation itself. For example, a two-parent household characterized by bitterness and fighting isn’t automatically preferable to a one-parent household, which might be characterized by love and acceptance. Your children may be less at risk with a single, custodial parent, especially if the other parent maintains strong contacts with the children.

Divorce isn’t some independent alien evil that drops unannounced out of the sky; it evolves. Be sure to look at the entire process. As with any consideration of history, understanding where you have been and how you got where you are is, unless you make a significant change, the best predictor of where you’re going.

Start by assuring your children the separation of their parents is not their fault. Younger children especially see themselves as the center of everything happening in their lives. Repeat this message frequently. Make it clear that the problem is between you and your spouse, not between you and them.

Emphasize that you’ll remain in their life as their parent. Yes, it’s really true you will always be there for them. Show them. Stay involved in their life, popping up at all times and showing an interest in what they’re doing. Ask questions.

Frequent contact is so very important. You may have spent an entire day with them last weekend, but that isn’t as important to them on Wednesday evening as a brief telephone call that puts you right there, with them, concerned about them and sharing in their day.

Do the best you can under your circumstances.

Case Scenario:

Fred had a job that took him out of town a lot. He spent all the time he could with his two teenage girls when he was here on weekends. The girls had developed their own social calendars, but Fred was always "there" with short telephone calls during the week, when he could get through, letting them know that he was thinking of them.

Tailor your involvement to your children’s ages. While it’s always difficult to worm your way into a teenager’s schedule, he or she needs to feel your concern and your assertion of your role in his or her life more than ever. Try taking your children to and picking them up from their activities. It’s a very natural way to spend time, and you’ll stay in tune with the events and problems that are important to them.

Case Scenario:

Leon also had two teenage girls. However, he was in town all the time and had a very flexible schedule. He took the girls to their ballet lessons regularly and always seemed to know what was important in their lives. Leon shared his girls’ world more than most parents do, separated or together.

Continue the activities that you already share with your children. Don’t stop going to the park, the beach, the movies, the ball game or the dance lesson just because you’re no longer living with your children’s other parent. Go hiking, bicycle riding or skating with them as you did before.

If your children are pre-school, involve yourself in their activities in whatever ways you can. You won’t be able to catch up on a week’s activities with a report from them, so frequent contact is even more important. If you live a long distance from them, send cards and notes often to give them the joy of receiving mail and tangible evidence that you’re still there for them.

It may be impossible to visit your children frequently if you live in a different community or you’re out of town a lot. You’re unable to be frequently involved in your children’s lives; the facts are against you, through no fault of your own. Confront this problem constructively in your approach to a custody and visitation plan; consider whether extending the length of the time you spend with your children will work for them in their schedules, and emphasize frequent telephone calls and e-mails.

Do your best to make lemonade out of the lemon of geographic separation that prevents you from spending time with your children, especially if you have been very involved with them. Establish your entitlement to special consideration for times when you are available to be with your children. Although they will set up new lives with new friends if you must move away from each other, you have the right to remain an important part of their lives to the maximum extent possible.

You’ll have to do a lot more than follow a few suggestions to handle all the problems that come up. But then, raising children is not a passive activity in an intact family.

Call the Family Custody Mediator at the local courthouse for recommendations about books on divorce, especially for children. Some books are for your children to read, and some are for you to read to them. Others are reference books for you, which try to sensitize you to your child’s point of view and suggest behavior to make it easier for them.

Go to a good bookstore and review the books. Select the ones most appropriate for you and your children. You’ll appreciate a book, in which you have confidence, in to answer tough questions and help chart out a course to follow.

You’re doing all that you can. It’s absolutely important that you do this and that you acknowledge this to yourself. You are helping your children. However, you can’t do it alone nor should you take all responsibility for any failure. Your spouse’s conduct might cancel out your good work.

Recent studies also indicate that we may have been overlooking the obvious. The single most important factor in how well a child does after divorce is the child’s individual temperament.

The Basics of Custody Plans and Parenting Plans

This is your opportunity to be creative. Whatever works for your children, for you and for your spouse is the plan you want. Work together in setting up, living with, and changing as necessary, your arrangement. Doing the best thing for your children will usually give you back the greatest enjoyment during your time with them.

Be honest with yourself before you rush off into a plan that enslaves you to a complex schedule with your children. Consider also that you must also be fair to children who require significant amounts of time with you.

Abandonment is unacceptable.

At the other extreme are men and women who have given up everything for their children, often when there was no need to deny themselves their own lives. Define your healthy involvement with your children, considering both your obligation to them and your personal needs.

You have committed yourself to spend time with your children and be part of their lives. Investigate the possibilities without delay, and do your preparation early. Avoid locking yourself into an unsuitable schedule or, worse, locking yourself out of substantial time with your children through indifference.

Custody plans offer two basic alternatives. The traditional schedule has the children live with a primary parent seventy-five to eighty percent of the time, and with the other parent on weekends and other occasions. In shared, joint or split custody, the children share their time approximately equally between the two parents, and the parents share the decision-making responsibility for the children approximately equally.

Some states, notably Texas, have standard orders. All states empower the parents to prepare a parenting plan that must be approved by the court, of course, which will look to the best interests of the child. For help in evaluating various arrangements, and perhaps more importantly in documenting what the agreement is and making it available for convenient reference, see the Kidmate® software program that creates custody schedules for easy reference and calculates the amount of time each child is with each parent, a factor used for child support calculations in many states.

Information provided by:
How to Win Child Custody

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