Divorce and Children: Preparing for Divorce When Children are Involved

In every divorce there is basic preparation that should be taken prior to filing legal papers or immediately after the process has started. These actions include consulting an attorney, gathering financial documents, establishing separate bank accounts and credit, creating a budget, and making an inventory of property. When you have a Divorce and children there are more things to do.

Ideally, issues related to child support, placement, and visitation should be decided between parents prior to initiating a divorce toward a goal of minimizing stress to the children. Resolving these issues in advance can help reassure kids that their daily lives and routines will be minimally affected and despite separation, both parents will continue to support and be actively involved with their children.

When it appears child custody and visitation issues cannot be mutually agreed upon and will be actively contested in a divorce proceeding, there are additional actions you can take both prior to and during the dissolution process that may provide a legal advantage or that will reduce the anxiety felt by children in this situation. The additional actions you can take concerning divorce and children are as follows:

1. Keep a Journal

Start writing a daily journal documenting activities involving the children such as who takes them to school, doctors, activities and other appointments. Remain actively involved with your children. Maximize your parenting time. Note instances where your spouse arrives late or fails to show for a planned activity involving the kids. This journal will help demonstrate parental involvement should a custody dispute arise.

2. Make a Contact List

Write down the names plus e-mail and street addresses for important people involved in the children's lives. This includes doctors, teachers, counselors, relatives, babysitters, and parents of the children's friends. This information should be shared between spouses.

3. Remain in the Family Home if Possible

Unless an emergency such as a domestic violence incident requires you to take the kids and move, it is best to say in the home. Courts prefer to maintain the status quo for children and will often strive to minimize upheaval from their daily lives both during and after a divorce. Moving them around or enrolling them in a new school can be disruptive and looked upon negatively by a court. However, if you feel there is a specific danger to your children from being in the same house as your spouse, do not hesitate to relocate.

4. Obtain School Records

Get all report cards and progress reports plus records that show who attended any student activities or parent conferences. This will help demonstrate involvement in the child's education.

5. Get Medical and Counseling Records

If a child has been involved in counseling for any reason, obtain records. If the child is currently in counseling, be sure to advise the counselor that a divorce is pending. Similarly, if the child has had more than routine medical needs, obtain treatment documentation.

6. Document Conflict

If custody is going to be challenged, make copies of any police reports, drug evaluations, and other documents that may show why the other parent should not be the primary custodian. In your journal of daily activities, include instances where your spouse has engaged in verbal conflict with the child or with you in front of child. Ideally, arguments with your spouse should take place outside the presence of children, but sometimes this cannot be avoided. When conflicts arise write down the details while the event is fresh in your mind.

7. Refrain From Disparaging the Other Parent

You and your spouse may have fallen out of love. You may even have a strong dislike for each other. You can end your relationship. However, the relationship as a parent to your child continues forever. Recognize that a son or daughter usually has strong feelings of love and attachment to both parents regardless of the conflict between the parents. You should not make critical statements about your spouse or allow others to make such statements in the presence of your child. Doing so can be detrimental both to the child and your legal position.

8. Communicate in writing

When conflict exists between spouses, it is often wise and advantageous to document communication in writing via texts, e-mails, and short letters. For example, if you verbally set up a time for your spouse to pick up a child or attend an activity, follow-up with a confirming e-mail to your spouse and keep a copy. Never attack your spouse in written communications or via social media as this could be used against you later in court. Treat communications more as a business exercise. Stick to the facts.

9. Use Consistent Discipline

Parents should show a united front when it comes to discipline. If one parent imposes punishment, the other should also enforce it and not let the child try to play one parent against the other. Let your spouse know when you have disciplined the child and document any instance where your spouse encourages the child to disregard consequences you have imposed.

10. Keep Legal Matters to Yourself

Limit discussion of issues related to the divorce to your attorney or other adults. Do not discuss the status of the case or child support issues with children. Do not ask your child to tattle or get information on the other parent, and don't use your child to exchange messages. In short, you deal with the legal issues and let your child be a child.

A battle over custody and support issues can easily bring out the worst in parents. Strive to keep your emotions in check, and always make the welfare of your children a top priority. Your preparation and conduct prior to and during a divorce proceeding can go a long way toward achieving your desired goals. Hopefully, following these steps will put you on a path that will ultimately result in a positive outcome for both you and your children. If you have any questions concerning divorce and children or any New Jersey family law issue, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free in office consultation at 201-845-7400.

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