Frequently Asked Questions for
Parents Dealing with Divorce

    What is the best way to determine where the children should primarily live?

    The parent who has been most involved in the daily care of the children should provide their primary home. Traditionally, this has been the mother. In growing numbers, although still small, some fathers have been providing most of the care either by choice or by default.

    Some of the things that should be weighed are: Who provides meals; who holds and comforts the children most often; who changes most of the diapers; who dresses the children; who bathes the children; who plays with the children; who takes the children to the doctor; who stays home with sick children; who reads stories to the children; who takes the children to school or activities; who puts the children to sleep; who communicates most closely with the children.

    If I do not have custody of the children, I will feel shut out of my children's lives. How can I deal with that?

    Custody is a legal term. You can be as active a participant in your children's lives as you choose. You will be co-parenting your children, even though you are not living with them every day, whether or not you are the non-custodial parent, you have custody, or there is joint custody. The children will know if you truly are an involved parent.

    What is the best way to tell the children we are getting a divorce?

    If possible, both of you should sit down with the children to tell them. Be honest and discuss the situation at the level of your youngest child. Tell them as much as possible about the reasons for the divorce, when the separation will take place, where the parent who is leaving will live, with which parent the children will live, when and under what circumstances they will see their other parent, whether they will be moving into a new house or apartment, and that they will have open telephone communication with the parent who is leaving.

    It is very important to keep open communication with the children. Let them know that you are available to speak with them individually whenever they feel a need. Be vigilant about keeping their trust.

    Understand that, although you may be hurting and disoriented yourself, their perspective on the world is not as mature as yours, and they need all the help and comfort you can muster.

    My spouse actually abandoned us. How can I help my kids handle this?

    Of course, this is one of the worst scenarios for the children. Ironically, in many cases the parent who has abandoned the children is lacking in self-esteem and believes the children would do better without them. If this is the case, make a last-ditch effort to keep your spouse in your children's lives.

    If this is impossible, your love and support will be the best medicine for your kids. Explain to the children that there is nothing wrong with them. They are worthwhile. The parent who left has problems that must be worked through.

    Now that my ex and I are living apart, how should we handle this new "visitation" arrangement?

    Cooperating with the other parent will make everything go more smoothly. Remember that both parents are entitled to know what's going on when it comes to the children's schooling, medical care, and social life. Establish a polite business relationship with the other parent. Be responsible in maintaining the visitation schedule. If a change must be made, work it out with the other parent in advance. Respect the rules of the other parent's household. Don't send messages to the other parent via your children. Business should be conducted only between parents.

    Above all, NEVER fight in front of your kids.

    What are some of the considerations to in designing a visitation schedule that will work for our children?

    The ages of your children are very important. Very young children should have short, frequent visits with their non-residential parent because they--appropriately--become anxious when they are away from their primary caretaker for too long. Long separations from the primary caretaker can result in symptoms of depression and regression, and later may result in problems with separation and the ability to form relationships.

    As children get older, the time away from their primary residence can increase.

    Parents should watch their children's reactions to changing residences and, if possible, adjust the schedule according to the individual needs of the children.

    If there is a great deal of conflict between the parents, a psychologist should be consulted to work out an appropriate schedule for the children. The amount of transitions might have to be reduced, since conflict occurs most often in front of the children at the time of transition from one home to the other.

    How can I help my children deal with the stress of moving back and forth from one home to the other?

    Transitions can be very stressful for children, even though they might have close relationships with both parents. The parent who has a new residence should create a space for their children where they can always "hang their hat." If finances allow, having their own bedroom that they can help decorate would be ideal.

    The parent with whom the children primarily live can ease the transition by getting the clothing ready the night before, so the children are mentally prepared to leave one home for the other. For very young children, packing a favorite teddy bear or other love object can help.

    The parent who has moved out should note any undue anxiety that the children may have about leaving their primary residence. Give them some time to adjust to their new surroundings. If the children seem to be chronically sad, talk to your ex about this, if you are on speaking terms. It might be necessary to temporarily cut back on the length of stay with you. Being sensitive to this issue will be to your long-term benefit because the groundwork will have been laid towards establishing a trusting relationship between you and your children.

    The primary residential parent should allow time for their children to adjust when they return. It is normal for them to have a "chilling out" period. Just "go with the flow." If you notice any sadness, remember that they might be missing their other parent. If they share this with you, try to understand that they have enough love for both you and their other parent. Your relationship with them will be helped by your sensitivity to their feelings.

    My children refuse to visit their other parent. What does this mean, and what should I do?

    Very young children experiencing normal separation anxiety might be fearful and anxious about leaving their primary home and primary caretaker. The length of the visits might have to be shortened, while perhaps adding an extra short visit, in order to reduce stress while at the same time helping the child bond to their other parent.

    For slightly older children, the non-residential parent should make sure to focus their attention on the children, since this is your special time with them. Come up with fun activities to interest the children. This doesn't have to be a whirlwind tour of all the attractions--A good game of Monopoly or basketball can be even more meaningful.

    Sometimes if there is open conflict between the parents, children will resist leaving their primary residence. Eliminate all open conflict with the other parent.

    Finally, in rare cases there might be a real cause of concern if there is any evidence of child abuse. However, never make an allegation without substantial evidence.

    To help your children adjust, it is important to be supportive of their relationship with their other parent. They should be encouraged to go. Make sure you are not giving them any subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages that it is okay for them to miss a visit or stop seeing their other parent.

    When the children come back from being with their other parent, they flaunt the rules of our home, saying that their other parent doesn't make them do that. What should I do?

    When you and your spouse lived together, the children had it all figured out--who to listen to, when you were serious, when your spouse was serious. You and your spouse might have fought about parenting styles. Now, each parent can rear the children in their own way.

    The children should follow the rules of each household. You should respect this as well. Think of the other parent's home as a public institution with rules that are different from yours.

    Last week I told my kids "No TV for a week!" because they wouldn't stop fighting with each other. But, their other parent let them watch TV. Shouldn't the punishment continue at the other home?

    No. You set your own rules and mete out your own punishment. This can continue when the children return, but you can't expect the other parent to carry out your punishment.

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