What are some tips for parents who are divorcing who have small children? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Alecia Li Morgan, single mum to four kids ages 8, 6, 5, and 3:
These are my tips, some serious, some playful, some in-between:
- Remember that your children are the first priority. Sometimes this can get lost in translation, especially if the circumstances of your divorce are exceptionally emotional or ugly.
- Try to do this with mediation rather than litigation. If you can manage it this way, you're more likely to be able to have an amicable relationship afterwards, which is pretty mission critical to coparenting. It also just costs far less money. If money isn't really an issue, then litigation might be necessary, but if you can mediate, I recommend trying it.
- With that said, bring a picture of your child(ren) and put it up during your discussions. Although this may bring emotions up, it also should help you both remember the priorities. This helps curb dire scare threats like "I won't help pay for their school!" - if you look at their pictures and then try to say things that you don't 100% mean, it's a lot harder to get ugly.
- Lay out what you agree upon first. Then work from there. By getting things you agree upon written down first, it means it's less likely you "pull" these things from the table later just to get your way on something else. Your goal is to agree on everything (with compromises), so putting down your groundwork first is really good.
- Don't look at support numbers when deciding timeshare. This is hard. We tried not to do this, but it still crept in. The parent who will be paying support often may begin agreeing to letting the other parent (usually the one who has been primary caregiver) have the lion's share of the children's time, which is generally in the best interest of everyone involved, but then see the way the support breaks down (it is dependent on both wages *and* amount of time with children in your care) and balk. For us, this meant a change of 20% of the time from what our original agreement was. It's unfortunate when this becomes a deciding factor in where the kids will be. So as much as you can, set this stuff aside.
- Do whatever you can to preserve their lives, at least for the first year. One thing I committed to as I went into all of this was that no matter what it took from me, I was going to try to keep their lives "the same" as much as possible for this first year. For me, this meant taking on a 4k a month rent solo, plus paying half of their private school tuition. It meant living month to month on a lot of things and getting help from family. But I have no regrets. Being able to keep the kids in their home and at their school this year as they adjusted to the changes has been invaluable. I'm convinced it is one of the key factors in how well they've coped, overall, with the changes.
- If you were primarily at fault, say sorry. Seriously. Say it. My ex didn't say this as much as I wish he had (and his affair partner not at all). It would have helped, honestly. You want to lessen the hurt and anger, not just because of negotiations, but because it's best for your kids in the long run.
- Force yourself to express gratitude and recognition. Mid-mediation cycle, I sent my ex an email. I just said I knew this was not the outcome either of us set out wanting, but I appreciated that he was working with me to make mediation work so that we could avoid the ugliness and cost of litigation. I told him I recognized his efforts towards being a better dad and more present for our children, and I appreciated that. Those things are true, but they were hard to write. However, it was important to me that I did. I don't know if it mattered to him; he never responded, but it mattered to me. It helped start me on the new cycle that I needed to be on for coparenting to work. One where the marriage was a dead thing now, and I needed to look at the present to evaluate and react for the kids' sake.
- Be flexible. Yes, it might be "your" night, but if your child is crying for home and the other parent, be flexible. There's debate on whether that's healthy or not (just like "cry it out"), but just try to be flexible.
- Be compassionate. Your spouse is hurting. Yes, even if your spouse is the one who cheated and is living with his/her affair partner now. Divorce is still ugly. (S)He may not be hurting the same way you are, but there's still hurt. It might be simply because change is scary, it might be reputation amongst friends and family, who knows. Try really hard to work up compassion. Your children need *both* of you to be as emotionally healthy as possible. You may not be partners in life anymore officially, but you're always going to have some obligation if only because it affects your children.
Good luck. Divorce isn't easy. Get support and do what you have to do. Your kids depend on you.