Keep It Together During a Divorce
As a mom, you can take steps to protect your kids and yourself while maintaining a workable relationship with your children’s parent.
By KD Reep
T he breakup of a marriage is devastating, but when children are involved in the dissolution, divorce can be an ongoing nightmare. It is the dark side of the American dream. According to a report by the Associated Press, Arkansas ranked fourth nationally in our rate of divorce, which increased between 2014 and 2015, while the national rate declined.
“All divorces can be boiled down to eight issues,” said Victoria Leigh, an attorney and mediator in Little Rock. “Those are grounds, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support and alimony, real property, tangible personal property, financial assets like investments or bank and retirement accounts, and debts. In most divorces, couples are not disputing in all eight areas. There is a range from uncontested in which the divorcing parties agree on everything and just need help with formalities to arguing in every area.”
Leigh notes that mediators can bring out the best result for the divorcing parties and their children. “Divorces don’t have to, nor should they be, knock-down, drag-out fights,” she said. “Very rarely should a divorce go to a final trial; however, if it does, the judge will likely give you some of what you want but not everything. Neither you, your ex or your children will be happy, and divorcing is difficult enough without being antagonistic and unreasonable.”
Parents should focus on what is best for their child’s life and schedule. For example, can you and your ex agree to shared custody throughout the week, or is it better for the child to have weekends free to be with either parent? Another thing to consider is how this may change as the child gets older.
“Don’t think in legal terms such as ‘sole custody’ or ‘joint custody,’” Leigh said. “Legal standards and definitions change over time, and in different counties there are different nuances. Think in terms of what you think sharing the children should look like— week on, week off? Every other weekend? A strict, set schedule? Or fluid? Splitting summers down the middle is great when a child is 5, but what about when she’s 15? She wants to go to camp or spend the night at friends’ houses? Where might your job take you in the future? Do you want to be tied to a specific town until your kids are grown? Can you each handle getting kids to school on your week? Who should make religious and educational decisions if you disagree? Your goal is to avoid having to come back to court in the future, so you should consider all the different angles.”
Rebecca Ward, a licensed clinical social worker in Little Rock, advises parents to talk to children together when divorce has been decided.
“You and your spouse should tell your kids in a calm and patient manner about how you are restructuring the family,” she said. “You have to reassure them you are still their parent and will see them as much as possible. Be clear about what changes and what stays the same, where they will live, where they will go to school, etc. The fact you are divorcing does not change the fact you are both your children’s parents. Put your feelings for your spouse aside and focus on all the changes your kids are about to go through,” Ward said.
If you are divorcing in Arkansas, it is a requirement for parents divorcing to attend a parenting class. Ward stresses that these classes help you and your ex act like parents and put the needs of the children first.
“This class helps you not leak out anger toward each other in front of your kids,” she said “The bottom line is it is not your kids’ fault you are divorcing. Your kids are and will be suffering as collateral damage. Do not disparage your spouse in front of the children. Bottom line: If your ex is a scoundrel, your kids will figure that out on their own. If you constantly run down your ex, your kids will feel conflicted and it may damage their self-esteem. To help avoid this, it’s vital you consciously carve out time for yourself so you can continue the rigorous demands of your life.”
As professionals who have dealt with divorcing and divorced parents, Leigh and Ward stress it is important to keep track of facts and seek assistance.
“Put together a reasonable budget and get tax returns and bank statements together. Be reasonable about sharing the kids. When you hire a lawyer, you want someone who is competent, accessible, accountable, timely and reasonable. In fact, legal advice is moving in a modern direction—flat fees, limited scope, payment plans. There are many options to fit services into your budget. The most important thing to remember is legal services are affordable, and not having counsel is too expensive to not figure out a way to afford. Divorces do not have to be complicated or bankrupt you,” Leigh said.