How To Help Yourself In A Divorce With Children

A group of people playing frisbee in the park.

Every divorce is different but there are some things that tend to be common. There may be extra conflict and stress in divorces with children. Try to keep the stress as low as possible for your children and for yourself. There may be no quick fixes or easy answers along the way and depending on your spouse’s temperament and their legal counsel, the divorce process can be longer than you may wish. You may feel disappointed, frustrated or disillusioned at times.

1. It is important for you to stay as healthy as possible during and after divorce.

2. There are things you can control and things that are out of your hands in a divorce. You need to come to grips with these things and accept them.

Things you can control include:

A. Your health. Be sure to get adequate rest, exercise and eat healthy during this stressful time. Stay healthy and make good choices.

B. Your time with your children and how you model behavior to them. Enjoy your children when they are with you. Maintain boundaries for their activities and behavior that make sense. Give them stability.

C. Your own home. Keeping things clean and organized may help you to feel better.

D. Your own work. Don’t let your situation or your spouse ruin your productivity or employment.

E. Following the letter and spirit of agreements and court orders no matter what your spouse does.

F. Protecting your child’s relationship with the other spouse by not attempting to brainwash your children against your spouse and by not using your children as spies or messengers. Not matter what plan, ploy or scheme your spouse is hatching against you, don’t sink to their level.

G. Respecting healthy boundaries with your spouse to keep conflict down. You have no right to enter into their home without their permission and your children do not give you permission otherwise.

H. Being reasonable and fair about divorce terms. Just because your spouse may be playing games, don’t sink to their level.

Things you can NOT control include:

A. Your spouses health. Whether they gain or lose weight, abuse substances or stay out all night. That is up to them.

B. What your spouse says to your children. This is a very tough one to accept. Discuss particular concerns with your attorney.

C. What your spouse says to third parties about you or your children. It may not be true. It may be exaggeration. It may be part of a half-baked scheme to discredit you and control you or your children. Don’t sink to their level. Discuss particular concerns with your attorney, especially medical and school communications that your spouse may be engaging in without your consent.

D. What your spouse does with your children or around your children, unless it is a danger to their mental or physical health and in that case contact your attorney and/or law enforcement at once.

E. Whether your spouse attempts to brainwash your children against you. Don’t do the same.

F. Whether your spouse makes things up or exaggerates things. Don’t sink to that level.

G. Whether your spouse’s lawyer makes things worse. It is hard to believe, but some lawyers simply repeat whatever their client says no matter how absurd. Others go even further and exaggerate it. They might misrepresent you or your actions. All you can do is focus on you and let your attorney deal with their attorney.

H. Whether your spouse is reasonable about any aspect of the divorce terms. They are dealing with issues in their own way and may not be reasonable about anything. They may be vengeful, angry, scared and unable to act rationally. This is difficult to accept. Eventually they will need to deal with you on a reasonable basis or else the court system will make decisions for them.

I. Whether your spouse follows the letter and spirit of agreements or court orders. Your spouse may violate the terms of an agreement or pervert the terms to mean something that was not intended. Talk to your lawyer but do not let it keep you from being healthy and calm. Don’t respond to a violation with a violation of your own.

J. Whether your spouse violates your boundaries and attempts to maintain or increase conflict. If a spouse will not appreciate your space and your boundaries in terms of contact and communications, talk to your lawyer and stay healthy and calm.

These are just partial lists. The point to remember is that you can only control so much and you have to let the rest go as much as possible, no matter how bad your spouse may be, unless there is a danger to your children’s mental or physical health requiring immediate legal and/or law enforcement action.

3. Spouses in a divorce with children may experience a lot of conflict due to one spouse being difficult. If that is your situation, you need to enforce models such as “parallel parenting” which means that parenting time with children is completely separate, in all ways, from time with the other parent. That means that no parent directs the other parent on what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. It may be necessary to limit communications in such cases to emails or text messages or even to have a 3rd party, such as your lawyer, handle all communications. You can’t be healthy when you are constantly barraged by communications with your spouse that are unsatisfactory and unproductive. Talk to you lawyer if you are feeling this way. You have a right to restrict communications as necessary to protect your health, your productivity and which help to put your children first.

4. It is possible that your spouse may be unwilling to listen to you about anything, or to take any of your suggestions, or they may be constantly in defensive or attack mode due to their own secret plan to “win” your children or the divorce itself. It is entirely possible that your spouse is not putting the children first in making his or her decisions. Focus on you and being healthy.

5. Some people seek conflict and chaos. That is their nature. Not everyone wants to resolve a divorce fairly or at all. Some people are not interested in problem solving and moving on. And if your spouse has a history of conflict or chaos, in their family or otherwise, you might as well expect more of the same. And remember, your relationship with your spouse does not end at divorce when you have children. Parents remain parents after divorce. Just be steady, stay the course, and try to be reflective and non-reactive as much as possible. Some people have undiagnosed mental or personality disorders, or at least traits of disorders. These are things you can not control. Maintain your own health and focus on you and what you can do for your children.

6. A divorce where conflict exists can take time. It is a process that can be long and arduous where one party is not willing to accept the other’s rights and to be reasonable and fair and put their children first. If your situation sounds like that, you need to accept a long term process that may be frustrating at times, no matter that you may be the reasonable one and ready to work things out and move on.

7. Contact Community Services in the Syracuse area offers a workshop called “Children 1st”. You may want to take this workshop no matter whether you are required to or not by the court. You will be in the company of strangers in the same boat, dealing with difficult situations and difficult people. The presentations and the experiences of fellow attendees can be reassuring and informative no matter how sophisticated or educated you may be. Unfortunately, many attorneys have not taken Children 1st and may otherwise not be aware of the important themes and guidelines that Children 1st provides attendees. I say this because you may take the workshop and feel that both your spouse and their lawyer are out of step. You may be right. However, you are best served to focus on you, to stay in step yourself,  be empowered by Children 1st, and do what you can do to help your children. For more information on Children 1st, please visit the following link:

Divorce is a breakdown of a relationship and more difficult with children. It is worse where one parent is not willing to do the right thing. Keep healthy and stay strong and work with your attorney to get through it. That is the best you can do. Remember that your children are impacted by the divorce in enormous ways that they may not be able to articulate. A divorce can be a defining part of their life. Seeking to limit the impact on them by focusing on them and on what you can do is important. No matter how bad your spouse may be behaving, no matter what plan they are trying to hatch to “win” the children or the divorce, protect your children’s relationship with the other spouse and simply focus on your time with the children and making it positive and rewarding for your children.

New York Divorce Law is complicated so you should meet with an experienced divorce lawyer – even if you think your divorce will be easy or straightforward. The Underwood Law Firm is one of the few firms in the Syracuse area that offers free consultations on Divorce & Family Law so that everyone has an opportunity to speak with an experienced attorney about their case.

The Underwood Law Firm handles all aspects of divorce and family law including child custody, child support, adoption and separation cases in the following areas: Syracuse, Utica, Albany, Watertown, Oswego, Binghamton; Onondaga County and Madison County, including the towns, cities and villages of: Fayetteville, Manlius, DeWitt, Morrisville, Cicero, Liverpool, East Syracuse, Syracuse, Baldwinsville, Camillus, Clay, Fabius, Elbridge, Geddes, Jordan, Lafayette, Lysander, Marcellus, Minoa, North Syracuse, Otisco, Pompey, Salina, Skaneateles, Spafford, Tully, Van Buren, Eaton, Cazenovia, Canastota, Brewerton, Solvay, Central Square, Cato, Chittenango, Oneida and many other areas.

Updated: 2/01/18