When working with parents who have dependent children, it is important to keep the needs of the parties’ children front and center during the parents’ divorce process.
This comes up not only in the parenting plan and child support order, but also when we look into division of property and spousal support.
Parents often come in with preconceived ideas of what will be best for their children, and, often parents disagree about what is best for their children. My work focuses on helping parents reach an understanding and agreement. I often hear:
“Our child/children told me…”
During times of conflict, children will often tell parents what they think they want their parents to hear, rather than what is true for the child/children. Once parents rebuild trust and begin to effectively communicate, they can have honest conversations about what they are hearing without judgment. From there, we can begin to explore what is best for their children.
“I’ve always been the stay-at-home parent and, therefore, should have the majority of time with the children.”
Divorce brings about change. Parents often use this transition to reflect on changes they want to make in their lives. Some want to create more work-life balance. Others want to start a career outside the home or obtain additional training or education. We know children do best when they have positive relationships with each of their parents. I work with parents to help them focus on the needs of the children and parents and create the right plan for their unique circumstances.
“The children can decide.”
While listening to the desires of your child/children is important, leaving the residential schedule decisions solely to the child/children puts them squarely in the parents’ dispute. I believe it is important that parents are flexible and address the ever-changing needs of their children. Sometimes it may be helpful to engage with a Child Specialist to understand the concerns and desires of their children. This can be done in a safe manner that keeps the children out of their parents’ dispute.
It is important for all parents to understand that children see themselves as part of each of their parents. When a parent disparages another parent in front of the child, the child takes the comment personally and feels like there must be something wrong with them. My advice for every parent, if you wouldn’t say it to your child, don’t say it in front of your child.