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How Can Parents Protect Children During the Divorce Process?

 Posted on April 11, 2024 in Child Custody

DuPage County, IL divorce lawyerMany people who are going through a divorce focus on how they will be affected, and they will want to take steps to protect their rights and ensure that they can move forward successfully after ending their marriage. However, parents will face additional concerns related to their children during the divorce process. It is important to protect children from the fallout of divorce and take steps to address both their physical needs and their emotional well-being. When addressing issues related to child custody, parents will want to determine how they can establish a positive co-parenting framework while also taking steps to shield their children from potential harm.

At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, our attorneys understand the ways children may be affected by divorce, and we work with our clients to resolve child custody issues and other related concerns effectively. We help our clients focus on protecting the best interests of their children, and we work to reach agreements that will allow for ongoing cooperation between parents as they raise their children together.

Understanding the Impact of Divorce on Children

When parents go through a divorce, their children are likely to experience a whirlwind of emotions, and as they experience changes in their lives, their overall well-being may be affected. By fully understanding the potential effects of divorce on children, parents can ensure that they will be able to provide the appropriate support. Some of the ways children may be affected by divorce include:

Emotional and Psychological Effects

  • Anxiety and uncertainty: Children may feel anxious about the future, wondering where they will live and whether they will continue to have a close relationship with both parents. This uncertainty can lead to anxiety and stress.

  • Feeling of loss: The end of a parent’s marriage can be hard for children. They may mourn the loss of their family unit as they knew it, and they may struggle to cope with feelings of sadness and grief.

  • Fear of abandonment: When one parent moves out of the family home, children may believe that this parent has abandoned them, and they may fear that the other parent will abandon them as well. This fear can lead to attachment issues or clinginess towards parents or caregivers.

  • Anger and resentment: Children may blame one or both parents for the divorce, and they may be angry about the upheaval in their lives.

  • Guilt: Some children mistakenly believe they are the cause of their parents' divorce. They may focus on situations in the past where they think their behavior could have contributed to family tensions, and they may worry that their actions could lead to additional family issues.

  • Conflicted loyalties: Children might feel torn between their parents, especially if they are asked to choose sides or if they hear one parent speaking negatively about the other.

Behavioral Changes

  • Regression: Younger children might exhibit regressive behaviors, such as bedwetting, thumb-sucking, or clinging to a parent or caregiver.

  • Acting out: Some children express their distress through rebellious or aggressive behavior. This could manifest in school or at home, and it might include defiance, anger, or disciplinary issues.

  • Withdrawal: Children may withdraw from friends, family, or activities they previously enjoyed. This can be a sign of depression or an attempt to cope with their feelings privately.

Academic and Social Impacts

  • Academic challenges: The stress and emotional turmoil of divorce can affect a child's concentration, motivation, and overall performance in school.

  • Changes in social behavior: Children might struggle with changes in their social life, especially if the divorce results in moving to a new area or changing schools. They may also feel isolated from their peers, and they may struggle to form healthy relationships with others.

Long-Term Considerations

  • Trust issues: Experiencing the breakdown of a family unit can lead to a lack of trust in parents, other family members, or friends. This can affect children’s future relationships.

  • Parentification: In some cases, children might take on adult responsibilities, or they may feel that they need to care for their emotionally distressed parent, leading to a reversal of roles.

  • Self-esteem: The upheaval and perceived loss of a stable family environment can impact a child's sense of self-worth, influencing their overall development.

By understanding how their children may be affected during the divorce process, parents can make sure they are focusing on meeting their children's needs and providing for their best interests. Recognizing these signs of emotional, behavioral, or academic issues can help parents mitigate the negative effects that their divorce may have on their children.

Protecting Children from Conflict

One of the most important things parents can do to protect their children during their divorce is to avoid exposing them to conflict as much as possible. Even though parents may disagree about many issues, and they may struggle to remain civil with each other, they can make an effort to shield children from conflict in the following ways:

  • Avoid arguing in front of children: Ensure that discussions about legal matters, disagreements, or frustrations occur when children are not present. Children are sensitive to parental tensions, and exposure to conflict can lead to emotional distress.

  • Maintain routine and stability: Try to keep children's daily routines as consistent as possible. Stability in their schedule provides a sense of normalcy amidst the changes in their family structure.

  • Collaborative decision-making: Child-related issues should be discussed privately, and after agreements are made, parents should present a united front. Consistency from both parents can help reduce confusion and insecurity for children.

Talking to Children About Divorce

Parents will want to make sure they keep their children informed about the changes that will be occurring in their lives. They can inform children about what will happen during the divorce and answer their questions. When discussing divorce-related issues with children, parents can do the following to protect them:

  • Age-appropriate explanations: It is important to discuss divorce in a way that is suitable based on children’s age and maturity level. Provide them with the information they need to understand what is happening without overwhelming them with details. 

  • Reassurance is key: It is important to regularly reassure children that both parents love them and that the divorce is not their fault. Children often internalize guilt, thinking they might be responsible for their parents' separation. Letting them know that the divorce is occurring because of decisions made by the parents rather than anything children have done can help prevent unnecessary worries or guilt.

  • Continue to communicate with children: Parents should encourage children to express their feelings. They can let children know that it is okay to feel different emotions about the divorce. By actively listening to children’s concerns, answering their questions, and validating their feelings, parents can help ease their emotional burdens.

Tips for Addressing Emotional Issues That May Affect Children

There are a variety of strategies that parents may use to help their children cope with the emotional concerns they may experience during a divorce, including:

  • Recognize signs of distress: Children might not always articulate their emotions effectively. Parents can look out for changes in behavior, such as withdrawal, aggression, decreased academic performance, or changes in sleep patterns. These signs could indicate that children are struggling emotionally, and parents can then take steps to address these concerns.

  • Practice active listening: Parents can encourage children to discuss their feelings, worries, and other issues that may affect them during the divorce process. By letting children express themselves openly and regularly checking in with them, parents can encourage them to work through their emotions in a positive way.

  • Encourage expression through activities: Sometimes, children find it easier to express themselves through activities rather than words. Parents may encourage them to engage in art, music, or sports, which can be therapeutic outlets for their emotions.

  • Seek professional support: Therapists or counselors can provide invaluable support for children who are dealing with emotional issues related to divorce. Sessions with a therapist can be a safe place for children to express themselves and discuss their worries and concerns. Mental health professionals can provide children with strategies to cope with their emotions constructively.

Crafting an Effective Parenting Plan

A well-structured parenting plan is a cornerstone of effective co-parenting. This plan, which will be part of the parents’ divorce decree, serves as a detailed roadmap for how child-related issues will be addressed post-divorce. It will address various aspects of children's lives to ensure their needs are met and their well-being is prioritized. A parenting plan will address a wide variety of issues, including:

Decision-Making Responsibilities

These responsibilities include:

  • Healthcare: The parenting plan should specify who will make decisions about the children's medical care, including routine checkups, emergency treatments, and mental health services.

  • Education: Parents need to agree on decision-making concerning the children's educational environment, school choice, participation in extracurricular activities, and how to handle any academic or behavioral issues.

  • Religious and cultural upbringing: The parenting plan should outline how decisions regarding the children's religious activities and cultural involvement will be made, ensuring respect for each parent's beliefs and traditions.

  • General welfare: This includes day-to-day decisions about the children's lives, such as diet, bedtime routines, and participation in social activities.

Parenting Time Schedules

A parenting plan will determine how parenting time will be divided between parents, and it will address issues such as:

  • Residential schedule: This is the regular, day-to-day schedule that outlines when the children will be with each parent. It should include weekdays, weekends, overnights, and considerations for transportation between homes.

  • Holidays and vacations: The parenting plan should detail how holidays, birthdays, school breaks, and vacations are divided or shared between parents, allowing for special occasions to be planned and celebrated with both parents.

  • Special events: Consideration for attendance at significant events like graduations, performances, and sporting events should be included, ensuring that both parents can participate in these milestones.

Communication and Discipline

Other issues addressed in a parenting plan may include:

  • Parental communication: Effective communication between parents is vital. A parenting plan may establish the preferred methods of communication (e.g., phone, email, co-parenting apps) and set guidelines for respectful and constructive exchanges. It may also address appropriate forms of communication between children and parents.

  • Discipline: To provide consistency and stability, parents may agree on basic disciplinary strategies and rules. This can help children adapt to their new family structure more easily, ensuring that they understand what is expected of them in both homes.

  • Involvement of new partners: Parents may choose to include stipulations on when and how children will be introduced to new romantic partners and what role, if any, these individuals will play in the children's lives.

Flexibility and Review

While consistency is crucial, so is flexibility. Parents should be willing to make adjustments as needed to accommodate the needs of their children and address unexpected issues that may arise. Life circumstances are likely to change for both children and parents, and the needs of children will also change as they grow. A parenting plan should include provisions for reviewing and adjusting the plan as needed, ensuring that both parents will continue to focus on providing for the best interests of their children.

Contact Our Elmhurst Child Custody Attorneys

As you prepare for divorce, you will want to make sure you are taking the proper steps to protect your children’s emotional well-being and provide for their needs. At Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC, our DuPage County child custody lawyers can help you understand the best ways to address legal issues related to your children, and we will work with you to create an effective parenting plan that will meet your family’s needs. To get legal help with your case, contact us at 312-605-4041 and set up a consultation.

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