Divorce can be a sad, scary and stressful experience for any child. Not surprisingly, a large part of a child’s reaction to divorce has to do with how the parents handle the divorce and conduct themselves, particularly in the presence of the child. If the parents are engaged in scorched earth warfare, the divorce will be more traumatic for the child and the child will have a more difficult time adjusting. On the other hand, when parents behave civilly toward each other, and the child is allowed to enjoy time with both parents, the child generally will adjust more quickly and with less difficulty. The following tips may help minimize the traumatic impact of divorce on your child and keep your child’s best interests at the forefront of parenting interactions:
- Remember that divorce is difficult for your child. Children sometimes “act out” as a way of expressing their anxiety, anger, and frustration. If your child is exhibiting signs of depression, withdrawal, behavior problems, or struggling with school performance, these are signs your child might benefit from professional counseling.
- Respect your child’s right to have a relationship with the other parent.
- Do not make (or allow others to make) derogatory comments about the other parent in the presence of your child.
- Do not fight or argue with the other parent in the presence of your child.
- Do not withhold visitation because the other parent has failed to pay child support. From a legal perspective, child support and visitation are separate matters and failure to pay child support is not a legal justification to withhold visitation.
- Do not use your child as a messenger to relay messages to the other parent. If you need to communicate with the other parent, text messages and email can provide neutral means of communicating. If your relationship with the other parent is tenuous or strained, a trained mediator or parent coordinator may serve as a neutral third party to facilitate communications and resolve disputes.
To the extent possible, adhere to an established custody/visitation schedule. A routine can be helpful in establishing security and stability for your child. Depending on the child’s age, it may be helpful to keep a calendar for your child showing the dates that the child will be with each parent.
Do not make your child feel that he/she has abandoned or disappointed you because of the child’s desire to spend time with the other parent.
Do not make promises to your child that you can’t keep. At a time when your child may be feeling insecure, your child needs to know that he/she can rely on you. If you tell your child that you will be somewhere, be there.
Do not use your child to spy on the other parent. If you need information about the other parent, do your own investigating or get it from some other source.
Dealing with the changes that accompany divorce can be challenging and overwhelming for both children and parents. Being mindful of your child’s needs and offering love, patience, and reassurance can be crucial to helping your child adjust and move forward in a healthy manner.
This article is for information purposes only and is not to be considered or substituted as legal advice. The information in this article is based on North Carolina state laws in effect at the time of posting.