Custody: Keeping the Child’s Needs in Mind
Your divorce has been all-consuming. The process can be incredibly difficult and now that it’s drawing to a close, child custody is the issue at hand. Custody may have been the last thing on your mind until this point, focusing on getting through the divorce. Preparation will make a big difference in what happens during the custody hearings.
Custody Doesn’t Have to Be a Battle
Custody cases are often called battles, but they don’t have to be. Children have already weathered the effects of the divorce, and the separation of their parents. Custody arrangements will be another hurdle for them in an already difficult situation. The ultimate goal of the custody process is to find the solution that best meets your children’s needs. The court will ultimately decide on custody based on the children’s best interest, so you should be considering that as well.
In reaching a decision about custody, the court considers several factors such as:
- What is in the best interest of the children
- The children’s wishes, generally if they are age 12 or older
- The relationship between each parent and the children
- The ability of each parent to support the children both emotionally and financially
- Keeping the children in a family together
- Minimal disruption to the children’s lives
- The typical schedule of each parent and time available to spend with children
- Primary caregiving responsibilities before divorce
- Any special needs of the children
- The willingness of each parent to work together for the benefit of the children
Emotional Effects of Divorce & Custody in Children
Every child reacts differently to divorce. Young children may believe that if their parents no longer love each other, someday they might stop loving them. They may also believe that their parents will eventually get back together. Children in grade school may blame themselves or their behaviors for the divorce. Acting out and being self-critical is not an uncommon reaction. Teens may be angry and blame one parent, or resent both for the turmoil in their family. They are already dealing with their own struggles with independence and adding divorce and custody into the mix often results in anger. These are simple, general reactions. In contrast, some children may feel relieved by the separation of their parents if their home life was causing anxiety and stress.
Decrease the Shock
Custody outcomes can come as a shock to the children. You may be struggling to deal with your own feelings of anger, sadness, and isolation. It can be overwhelming to think about supporting a child’s emotional upheaval. While you will need to be available to your children, you can find support for yourself through other sources. Talk to your family, friends, or doctor to help you. Look into community programs and support groups to deal with your feelings so you can be emotionally available to your kids.
Discuss divorce and custody with your children. Waiting until it’s over or even nearly over won’t make it easier for them. Some suggestions:
- If you can, talk to your children together.
- Talk to them in an environment that makes them comfortable.
- Plan to talk with your kids more than once. They may need time to digest the information and then ask questions.
- Invite your children to ask questions and express emotions.
- Explain things in a way they can understand, based on their age.
You may not be able to handle your children’s emotional reactions alone. Take them to their pediatrician or a counsellor who specializes in children or teens. By giving them an outlet to safely discuss their feelings, they will be better prepared for the inevitable changes to their lives.
Once the divorce and custody are established, children need time to adjust to the changes in their relationships with their parents. All relationships take adjustment, with one parent as the primary caregiver and the other losing the daily contact with their children. Be patient as they work through these changes with your help.
The biggest problem for them may not be your divorce. Your kids are likely already aware of tension between their parents. What will hit them hardest will be the rest of the changes in their lives. The reality hits home when they begin to deal with changes to where they live, adjusting to new financial restrictions, and moving back and forth between homes. Do your best to make these transitions as smooth as possible, and listen for expressions of frustration or desire for changes. Make sure they know you are open to talking about their feelings and give them the time they need to get used to their new living arrangements.
The Best Interests of Your Child
Throughout your divorce and custody proceedings, remember that your children will be affected by your decisions. Keep their best interests in mind from the start and keep the lines of communication open from the beginning. The lawyers in Verhaeghe Law Office are here to help you navigate the processes of family law. Call us at (587) 410-2500.