Easing the Strain on the Children of Divorcing Parents

Introduction

Ohio has experienced an increase in case filings involving the rights, duties and obligations of divorcing parents and their children. Divorce is a fact of modern society that greatly influences our nation's children. In fact, forecasters are predicting that 50 percent of all children born during the 1990's will spend some of his or her childhood in a single-parent household. While this firm zealously represent our clients in divorce and separation matters, we also encourage solutions that are optimal for our client's children during this tumultuous period. We find that, ultimately, our clients' long-term satisfaction is far greater when they know that they did not compromise the best interests of their children during the course of the divorce proceedings.

Child-focused Considerations in Custody Disputes

The best of divorces creates stress for the children of that marriage and the worst of divorces can leave life-long scars on the children born during the marriage. That is not to say that sometimes divorce is not the better, if not the only, decision. The unfortunate reality of divorce, however, is that it symbolizes the end of a child's world, perhaps the only world he or she has ever known. The lack of stability and uncertainty about the future is very frightening for children. They may wonder whether their parents will still love and care for them in the new situation. Depending on his or her age, a child's emotions can range from extreme fear of abandonment to anger and blame directed towards one or both parents. Given these facts, the best thing parents can do is to reassure a child of their continued love and willingness to care for the child. There are some additional matters that parents and their attorneys can do to minimize the stress caused children by the break up of a marriage.

First and foremost, as a parent you can assist in bringing custody disputes to the quickest possible resolution. The sooner your child knows what his or her future living situation will be like, the sooner the child will begin to reconstruct his or her world and regain some stability. If at all possible, you and your spouse should come to a compromise regarding custody prior to the time of trial. Contrary to popular belief, courts are not in the best position to determine who should have custody of your children, but rather you, the children's parents, are better equipped to make this determination. Courts only see a small glimpse of what you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are all about. Further, once it gets to the point of a full-blown custody dispute in court, all sorts of interesting things start to happen. You may be surprised to learn that the smallest details of your life are dragged before the court and used to paint a picture of you as an unfit parent. This is because, for a court to make a custody determination, it must determine what is in the "best interest" of your child. Although the standard varies from state to state, courts typically consider evidence regarding the following factors:

  1. Wishes of the child, if of age deemed reasonable for expressing a preference;
  2. Mental and physical health of the parents;
  3. Religion and/or cultural considerations;
  4. Need for continuation of stable home environment;
  5. Support and opportunity for interaction with members of extended family of either parent;
  6. Interaction and interrelationship with other members of household;
  7. Adjustment to school and community;
  8. Age and sex of child;
  9. Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse; and,
  10. Evidence of parental drug, alcohol or sex abuse.

Depending on the state, other factors may be considered as important when determining the child's best interests. Indeed such things as a parent's smoking status, current romantic relationship(s), and past working habits have all been raised in custody battles. Such considerations can needlessly drag out court battles, depleting financial resources that could have been used for your children's welfare.

Even where the court reaches a determination that it believes is reasonable and fair, you may be completely unhappy with the result. It is then that people consider appealing the decision to a higher court. This further drags out the uncertainty for children and may create a huge financial burden for both parents. By reaching a reasonably satisfactory compromise with your spouse prior to trial, you can avoid rolling the dice before a judge and receiving a completely undesirable custody decision.

Further, to minimize impact on your children, you should avoid using your children as a pawn to gain leverage in the division of your property or other financial disputes. Your children will be better off if you honestly admit to yourself and others the role you wish to play in your children's future lives. Additionally, avoid allowing your children (especially older children) to use you as a pawn to receive the "easier" living situation. After divorce, children still need limits and consistent discipline. As hard as it is, try to continue to maintain a uniform front with your ex-spouse regarding the expectations for desirable behavior and limits on unacceptable behavior for your children. In the long run, this too will help your child feel more secure.

You should also take steps to ensure an atmosphere of cooperation with your ex-spouse. Often divorcing parents think (or at least hope) that the divorce will more or less rid them of their ex, however, because they have children together, divorcing parents will still have to deal with each other for at least the duration of their children's minority. Therefore, cooperation is essential and will help keep you out of the courts in the future.

Finally, avoid criticizing your ex-spouse in the presence of your children. Instead, allow your child to have a good relationship with both parents. You have divorced (or are in the process of divorcing) your child's parent, but your child has not divorced the other parent. Even when their parents are no longer together, children benefit from the love and support of both parents. While no court can make you and your ex-spouse cooperate, the more you and your spouse strive for mutual cooperation, the better your children will weather the divorce, both now and in the years to come.

Conclusion

Modern day life has seen many changes in the structure of family. The odds are good that most children today will experience the divorce of their parents. Although divorce is very difficult for children and can negatively impact children, parents can take steps that will help minimize that impact. The more parents can work cooperatively on custody and visitation issues, the better off their children will come through the divorce. The divorce alone creates a great deal of upheaval in children's lives, a prolonged custody battle only increases the upheaval and, unfortunately, leaves everyone feeling dissatisfied.

Dan Whittington's Child Custody Experience

If we can be of help in your divorce/child custody problem, please call or email Dan Whittington at 216-771-7777 or danw@danwhittingtonlaw.com.

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