In my years as a divorce mediator, there are few issues I have seen that are more contentious than what to do with the children. So many questions need to be answered; such as who will retain physical and legal custody? Does joint custody make sense? Can we come up with a parenting time schedule that works for both parents and is best for the children? These are complex issues and are challenging for just about every divorcing couple.
While issues around the children are always difficult for divorcing spouses to address, there are some factors that can make things easier. For example, it makes a big difference what age the children are when you divorce, what time of the year the divorce is initiated, and what method is used to work out the details of the divorce settlement.
Here is a look at each of these areas and how they tend to affect children in a divorce:
The Older the Better
In general, divorce is more difficult for younger children to handle than their older siblings. For example, a child who is four years old will have a much harder time understanding what is happening (and why it is happening) than a child who is 14. Often, four-year olds have little awareness of the marital conflict that is causing the breakup, leaving them to wonder why the family is splitting up. I understand that it may be impossible to put off a divorce for several years to give the children a chance to mature, but it is still worth mentioning that older children are typically better equipped to deal with a family breakup.
Spring is the Time for New Beginnings
Choosing the right season for divorce is something couples have much greater control over. I have found that divorcing during the winter or over the holidays is usually less than ideal for the kids. First of all, their holiday memories are often perpetually tainted by the divorce. Secondly, if there is a move that involves changing schools, the children are forced to deal with the added stress of both a family breakup and adjusting to a new school at the same time.
From the perspective of the children, usually the best time to initiate a divorce is the spring. A typical divorce can be finalized within a few months, which gives you a large portion of the summer for the kids to transition to their new home. In addition, if they are transferring schools, they are able to start in the fall at the beginning of the school year, when there will be other transfer students and it will be easier to adjust.
Cooperation over Conflict
How you choose to work out the details of your divorce matters a lot more to the children than many couples realize. If you are able to part ways amicably, this can go a long way toward softening the blow and helping the kids accept their new reality. This is one of the reasons I became a divorce mediator and feel so passionately about mediation. As mediators, we provide an affordable alternative to traditional divorce that allows the spouses to work out their differences in a collaborative rather than adversarial manner. This most often leads to settlements that place a higher priority on what is in the best interests of the children.