The stress and emotional impact of a divorce can be overwhelming for anyone, even more so when children are involved. A party who is surprised or blindsided by a divorce often wants a day in court to testify about all the wrongs committed by their soon-to-be former spouse, exact revenge or prove why their soon-to-be ex is undeserving of money or time with the kids. Often, however, this “day in court” mudslinging fails to achieve the desired long-term result. In most cases, nasty divorce trials or protracted custody battles leave both parties financially and emotionally devastated, preventing them from recovering their ability to effectively co-parent. There are often better options. Parents who are divorcing should consider whether they want a judge, who knows very little about them and their children, making decisions about their life, or would prefer to use mediation or similar approach, to put aside their differences, temporarily at least, to try to reach a cooperative agreement?
Dealing with Strong Emotions
Clearly, there are times when one parent must fight for the safety and welfare of their children and an expensive custody battle is inevitable. If domestic violence, substance abuse or other serious issues are involved, it may be impossible to reach an agreement or cooperate with the other spouse. In a substantial majority of cases, however, a little grace and a little less anger can have a positive long-term impact on how children handle the stress of their parents’ divorce. There is no “right way” to handle co-parenting through a divorce or a modification of custody, but it is very clear that the more amicable the split, the less it affects the children. Parents should try not to let their own personal hurt, anger and frustration with the other spouse bleed into their ability to provide a safe and stable home for their children and, to the extent possible, do their best to keep their emotions out of their communications with the other parent. High emotions and leftover resentment from the end of a relationship can derail effective co-parenting communication. Parents should be kind one another, at least in front of their children, and save the venting for friends, a therapist or other trusted adviser.
Navigating Parenting Differences
There are many ways to parent. The fact that parents are doing things differently does not mean the children are not being taken care of in one household or the other. Each parent typically believes they are doing the right thing for their children. If they step back, they can often see that the other parent is trying to do the right thing from their perspective. If all else fails, parallel parenting is worth a try. In parallel parenting, parents do not interact or communicate with each other unless absolutely necessary. They don’t attend school or extracurricular activities, etc. during the other parent’s time. While this is not ideal, it can work for parents who cannot control emotional interactions with each other, and may actually provide more peace and stability for the child(ren).
Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution
Parenting is difficult. Being a single parent is difficult. Fighting with the other parent about every parenting decision makes life even more difficult for both the parents and the children. Health, medical care, mental health, education and even participation in extracurricular activities are some of the most explosive and emotional parts of a divorce or custody case. Court orders cannot micromanage all daily parenting decisions. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation allow parents to address more details of a parenting plan such as specific extracurricular activities, payment of private school tuition, or even what age to buy a child a cell phone, which are issues the courts do not handle. Attending mediation allows each parent to discuss and consider a more granular approach that addresses the specific needs of their child(ren). In a mediation, parents can have detailed discussions about day-to-day topics that affect their children. For example, courts do not have the ability to order a parent to pay for car insurance or college-related expenses or to force a parent to set aside monthly funds toward a college savings account. In a mediation setting, parents can discuss and agree to these types of details that will help make co-parenting easier in the future.
Another alternative that allows divorcing parents more control over the details of their custody schedules/parenting plans is the collaborative divorce process. The collaborative divorce process keeps a case out of the courtroom in a private and confidential setting that enables spouses to formulate agreements focusing on their most important goals and individual needs.
For parents to be the best parents they can be, they should take the high road whenever possible to protect their emotional health, as well as that of their children and family.