Marriage, though fueled by love, can be a risky proposition. According to one source, first marriages have a one in four chance of ending in divorce. A second or third marriage has a 75% chance of ending in divorce. It’s not uncommon for child custody proceedings to follow.
Perhaps you or your spouse are children of divorce. And now, despite your best intentions, your children will have divorced parents.
But what they do not have to be are the children of a fraught, angry divorce.
When a divorce leads to a custody battle, children inevitably end up in the middle. Even if you try to shield them from negotiations, they’ll sense the tension. And, if your divorce ends up in court? The tension will ratchet up phenomenally. In divorce court, each attorney is there to “fight” for their client, pitting you against the only other person your children love as much as you. In this type of battle, there will only be one “winner” and it won’t be your kids. How can you avoid this outcome?
Follow these 7 guidelines for keeping your kids out of court and keeping strife out of your divorce proceedings:
Make your kids your priority.
While you and your spouse are mourning the loss of your relationship and feeling angry at one another, you’re also turning your children’s world upside down. They may fear that they caused your divorce, that they’ll have to move and change schools, or that they won’t see one of you as much. Do what you can to comfort them, listen to their concerns, and assuage their fears during this time. Truly listen and take their concerns into consideration when it comes to the custody agreement.
Shield your children from arguments and anger.
Tensions run high during a divorce. Avoid trash-talking your spouse in front of the children, and don’t undermine one another when it comes to parenting decisions. At the same time, be open you’re your kids to let them know that you’re working together to come to a living and parenting situation that is in their best interest.
Consider mediation rather than court.
The goal of divorce and child custody mediation is to use the assistance of a neutral third-party to come to a divorce mediation plan and child custody plan that meets all concerns. This type of work isn’t easy and requires a lot of discussion — and a mediator can help. Rather than face off through lawyers, you and your spouse can engage in fruitful communication, not arguments. With mediation, you both “win” by working issues out as co-parents, rather than one side winning because a judge decides so.
Don’t force your kids to choose.
In court proceedings, your children may be asked which parent they prefer to live with. While older children may indeed have a preference, it’s cruel to force them to choose and can set them up for feelings of guilt for years to come. A mediator with child custody experience can work through these issues and decisions much more sensitively than a court.
Create a plan that works for you.
If you end up in court, you may leave with a cookie-cutter plan dictated by a judge that isn’t in your family’s best interest. In a recent study of Ohio county courts, it was found that the local default parenting time guidelines of 88 Ohio counties, 64 had guidelines that allowed children to spend just two overnights and 60 hours or fewer in a two-week period with the non-custodial parent. However, what if you and your ex prefer a 50/50 custody split? What if one of you works unconventional hours that may require a more customized child custody plan? What if you prefer to share custody during the week? With mediation, you can develop a plan that works specifically for your family.
Keep the lines of communication open.
By engaging with your ex civilly in mediation, you avoid the permanent wounds that a contentious divorce can cause. This helps keeps the lines of communication open in the future when new life circumstances may require changes in your agreement, from a new job with required travel to sharing unexpected expenses related to your kids, from ER bills to tutoring costs.
Provide a good example.
By choosing mediation, rather than lawyering up, you can exemplify how conflicts can be resolved through civil communication. Mediation shows them that you and your ex will continue to work as a team where they are concerned. This will set up your co-parenting agreement and new family structure up for success.