Making Divorce Easier on Children

Authored by Wendy Witt, Esq.

Most importantly - if you and your spouse have children together, you'll be connected forever and even if you don't, you once loved each other and behaving civilly respects that original relationship. Besides any time you can reduce stress, your sense of wellbeing and health will blossom.

Put your children first by remaining civil. Do not discuss the divorce, your spouse, or money in front of your children; and, remember, they hear and understand more than you think they do.

Just as your child has changed your marriage, he or she changes your divorce as well. If your children have "normal" medical, psychological, and financial needs, child support guidelines and the usual timesharing patterns may work. However, if your child has special needs, the usual just won't work. You already know that; however, spill the beans right away. It makes a difference in finances, time-sharing, and estate planning. If you have one child with special needs and others who do not, different plans are likely appropriate.

Timesharing

In many divorces, the children split their time between both parents. If your child doesn't do well with change or needs specialized medical equipment, typical timesharing agreements won't be in his or her best interests. For consistency, some parents actually choose to leave the family home when the other parent comes in so the children don't have to make the change.

Explain to your attorney if your child:

  • Needs Consistency in Time and Place
    • A change in schedule and beds and being away from a caretaking parent may rock the boat, increasing fear and upset.
  • Has Expensive Medical Equipment
    • The insurance company usually only pays for one set of equipment so the child would need to stay in the same place.
  • Has Caretakers
    • Consider which parent will choose medical personnel and caretakers. It may not be a good idea to change caretakers.

The parent with legal custody is the parent who makes decisions about medical care, education, lifestyle, and living situation. It may or may not be a good idea for both parents to have legal custody. Ask your divorce attorney about this.

Financial Support

If one of the parents is the child's main caretaker, this responsibility will affect his or her ability to work and earn a living. In addition, your divorce lawyer needs to know whether your child will ever be able to support himself or herself or not.

All financial aspects of a divorce will be affected:

  • Child Support
  • Spousal Support
  • Marital Property Division

A special needs child may be financially dependent for a lifetime with ongoing medical, caretaking and legal fees. This means that marital property settlements, child support, medical insurance, and life insurance plans must take special needs into consideration. Following state child support guidelines is likely insufficient.

Bottom Line: Make sure your divorce lawyer understands what your children's typical days are like, especially if you have a special needs child who is not going to fit into the typical divorce/child custody agreement.

Estate Planning

Be sure to meet with an estate planning attorney when going through the divorce process. Divorce itself usually dictates a change in the estate plan and if you want a say in how your children are raised and supported, you absolutely need to document your wishes.

How can I make the divorce process easier on my children?

First of all, congratulations for realizing. You're definitely doing something right. Divorce is always difficult on the children and how you handle your anger, resentment, financial strain, and fear will absolutely determine how secure your children feel and how they prosper or perish in future relationships. (Sorry for the added pressure.)

Second, follow this checklist and refer back to it often to remind yourself of what's really important. We know this is a tough list and that you won't be perfect all of the time, but your children are worth the effort. Keep trying.

  • I have hired a cooperative minded attorney, who seeks to find a mutually beneficial resolution.
  • I remember that I am in control of my emotions.
  • I have sought counsel from a trained therapist.
  • I never say bad things about my child's other parent.
  • I communicate directly with my spouse or through our attorneys. I never use my children to carry messages.
  • I don't complain about bills and finances in front of my children.
  • I emphasize to my children they my spouse and I both love them and that the divorce is not their fault.
  • I follow my attorney's advice.
  • I never talk to my divorce lawyer in front of my children.
  • I always honor our current timesharing agreement and allow my children to communicate with their other parent whenever they wish.
  • I say, "yes", to my spouse unless I have a truly important reason for saying, "no".
  • I am always civil to my spouse in front of my children.

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