Divorce is an often emotionally charged, life-changing event. This is even truer when children are involved. Naturally, divorcing parents worry about how divorce will affect their children. As a family court lawyer, I dedicate a great deal of my practice to custody and visitation and other issues involving children. Invariably, clients express that they want what is best for the children. I believe most parties truly are trying to do what they believe is best for their kids, but there is so much misinformation and there are many misconceptions out there about what is “best.”
How custody and visitation are determined is widely misunderstood. Most people do not realize that the visitation model of ‘every other weekend to fathers’ was based entirely on the practicality of an outdated family model of one parent working outside the home (usually the father) and the other parent working as a homemaker (usually the mother). Unfortunately, because this “standard visitation” model became ingrained in our culture, the mistaken assumption is that it must be what is best for kids. However, modern studies show that children benefit greatly from having close to equal time with each parent if possible. As a result, many states are moving toward a presumption of shared or equal custody. South Carolina is not one of those states, but our family courts have taken notice of the trend.
Of course, equal time will not work for every situation. What is even more important for children to have is parents who get along. Studies show that a healthy relationship between parents is the most important factor in reducing stress on kids and minimizing the negative impact of divorce. There are instances, such as in cases where abuse or addiction are present, where it is difficult or impossible for the parents to have a healthy relationship and we must do whatever necessary to protect the children. Thankfully, most cases are not that extreme. Divorcing parents can use the following do’s and don’ts as general guidelines to find common ground and minimize any negative impact on their children.
- DO NOT SPEAK NEGATIVELY ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT. It confuses a child to hear one parent speak negatively about the other because the child loves that parent. That confusion can cause additional stress and anxiety in an already uncertain time.
- DO ENCOURAGE A POSITIVE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OTHER PARENT. Children can often end up feeling guilty if they enjoy their time with Dad if they feel Mom does not approve (or vice versa).
- DO NOT TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT THE CUSTODY CASE. Make sure kids know they don’t need to worry and although things will change, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Children are amazingly resilient.
- DO ATTEND YOUR KID’S FUNCTIONS EVEN IF THE OTHER PARENT WILL BE THERE. Unless there is a legitimate safety issue, don’t avoid going to school or sports functions because the other parent will be there. Put your kids first.
- DO BE CIVIL TO THE OTHER PARENT. ALWAYS. You will never regret taking the high road and being civil, even if you are not treated the same way in return.
Divorce is stressful, but by following these tips you can gain control over how the divorce will affect your kids. Knowing your kids are okay will provide you invaluable peace of mind and will help build the foundation for successful co-parenting in the future.
Beth Ann Prince, of Prince Law Firm, P.C., is a family law attorney located on Hilton Head Island. She and her husband are proud to be raising their daughter and 3 dogs in the Lowcountry.