When a marriage doesn’t work out and a couple decides it’s time to separate legally, the most complicated and personal part of it all is how the children are affected. Every year more than one million children are involved in divorce proceedings and thereby greatly impacted by legal separation law. Naturally, both parties want a fair settlement for how often they see the children, but at times that settlement can get messy. When working out these complicated details, the most important thing to remember is that the best interest of the children must come first.
- Settle Custody Disputes Quickly: When possible, you and your ex-spouse should have an agreement regarding custody before you go to trial. This will make it clear to any children involved that you both are on the same page. It will also allow your children to reconstruct their idea of normalcy around what their new living situation will be. For the custody to be formally agreed upon, many parents attend a court-sanctioned mediation in which you and your lawyers discuss what you want. The hope is that this proceeding will peacefully settle any custody issues.
If you do need to have a judge settle the custody dispute, be prepared for your divorce lawyer to drag out the most intimate details of your ex-spouse’s life to be used as reasons why you should have primary custody. In return, your ex-partner’s attorney will do the same with your personal life. Courts determine custody based on what is in the child’s best interest. Factors that determine “best interest” include each parent’s ability to care for the child, the child’s wishes if they are old enough to logically voice them, the changes a child may have to endure if a parent moves to a new area, and more.
- Don’t Use Children as Pawns: Legal separation law will involve you and your ex-partner dividing your other assets as well, including property, finances, and personal goods. Although it may be tempting to bargain for some of these things by conceding on custody terms — or for you to gain more custody by giving your ex-spouse the material goods — the haggling will negatively affect the children. Even if they are not aware of the negotiation that took place, underlying resentment from one or both parents will bubble up and become apparent to everyone in the household.
- Avoid Criticizing Your Ex: Children pick up on every word, tone, and implication, no matter their age. Although your ex-spouse may have treated you unfairly, vent those complaints to your close friends instead of your children. Unless there is a domestic violence allegation against a parent and it is a case of your child’s protection, children should be able to build a relationship with each parent after a divorce and form their own opinions on them as they grow. Approximately 30% of couples who divorce have children under the age of 18. These are extremely formative years and will affect a child for the rest of their adult life. If a child grows up with each parent constantly disparaging the other, they won’t know who to trust and will have trouble forming a bond with both parental figures.
With about 876,000 divorces happening each year in the United States, there’s a new divorce happening every 36 seconds. This means that you, your ex-spouse, and your children are far from the only ones having to navigate legal separation law. By maintaining constant civility and finding the right legal help, you will be able to begin your new life with everyone involved unscathed.