Marital Status and Your Kids

You’ve probably read or heard a lot about how divorce can be bad for kids. In general, I don’t agree with that idea because it’s been my experience that a home filled with anger, turmoil, or violence is a bad environment for children. And often, divorce is the only choice, so everyone simply has to make the best of it. I’ve talked a lot in the past on this site about how to talk to your child about divorce. Divorce isn’t the only choice though, so let’s talk about other situations you might find yourself in and how to explain them to your children.

Separation
Many couples today find themselves getting separated (legally or not) because the current financial climate makes divorce an expense that is difficult to afford or as a stepping stone to divorce. If you and your spouse do separate, you need to find a way to explain what is happening to your kids. When you are separated, you remain legally married. Some people get separated, then later divorce. Others just separate and never take the final step. If your intention is to divorce, you should explain that to your kids. Let them know you won’t be getting back together and that the legal process may take a while, but that as far as the two of you are concerned, your marriage is truly over.

If you are separating on a trial basis (and many people do this to test the waters), be honest about it with your children. They have friends whose parents have separated and divorced, so it is something they understand. If you haven’t made a final decision, be clear about that. Separation can be difficult for kids (as it is for you!) because everything is up in the air and unsettled. Try to provide as much stability as you can during this time and put a clear parenting plan together.

If you are permanently separating, but do not intend to reunite or divorce, it may be hard to explain this to your child. Most kids see separation as a step towards divorce. If you are choosing to remain legally married for religious, financial, or other reasons, talk about these with your child. Be clear about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and how it impacts your child. A marriage in name only can be a difficult concept for a child to grasp, so you will likely need to do a lot of talking about this.

Annulment
A lot of people ask me about annulments. An annulment is a legal proceeding, similar to a divorce, in which the marriage is dissolved (note that a religious annulment is an entirely different process). The difference, however, is that an annulment legally erases the marriage because it was invalid from the start. There are several situations in which annulment is possible – one of you wasn’t legally able to marry (under age, already married or not mentally fit to consent) or situations in which fraud or mistake happened, such as when one person lied about his ability to have children or about having some kind of disease. Many people are interested in annulments because they feel like they are a way to wipe the slate clean.

If you have children and get an annulment, does that mean your children are illegitimate? Absolutely not. Every state has laws that say that children of an annulled marriages are legitimate. But then how do you explain this to your kids? Annulment is a complicated idea, so the best way to explain it is to say that it’s almost like a divorce, but means that your marriage is going to be ended because some kind of mistake was made. You no longer want to be married and the court is going to undo your marriage. It’s better not to tell younger kids that it’s as if you were never married. The fact that their parents were once married is something that is very important to them. Answer your child’s questions as best you can and always come back to the fact that this situation is just like a divorce, but it’s called something else.

Unmarried Break Ups
If you and the other parent never married, the end of your relationship is going to be less formal than if you are married. You will probably find yourselves engaged with the legal system to get custody and child support formalized (even if you agree on it), so this can provide a kind of official ending to the relationship and give everyone closure. If you’re breaking up, be clear about your plan with your child. If it is not definitely permanent, explain that. If you know it is the absolute end, you need to talk about it in the same way you would a divorce.

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Do You Need a Divorce Financial Planner?

You may have seen ads for Certified Divorce Financial Analysts or for divorce financial planners. These professionals specialize in helping people who are divorcing understand their assets, plan a settlement, and understand the possible value of their assets in the future. They also may be able to appraise assets. They may be skilled in tax law, understanding insurance options, and retirement planning.

Understand the Overlap

The problem with divorce financial planners is that many of the services they offer overlap with those other more qualified professionals offer. For example, if you are considering the tax ramifications of selling the marital home and distributing a pension plan, you could turn to your tax adviser who specializes in this information. If you are trying to create a budget or work out an investment plan moving forward, you could consult your financial adviser who is an expert in these topics. If you are trying to complete the financial affidavit required for your divorce, your divorce attorney would be an expert in this. If you needed to get an appraisal of a home, jewelry, collectibles, or antiques, you would turn to an appraiser who specializes in that particular area. The best way to get accurate, current information is to work with someone who specializes exactly in that area.

A Combination of Resources

There are some benefits to using a divorce financial planner. He or she provides one stop shopping for all of your financial concerns, so instead of hiring an appraiser, tax specialist, and financial adviser, you could turn to a divorce financial planner to handle all of your concerns. In addition, divorce financial planners are trained to consider all of these issues together and within the context and laws of a divorce, so they may be able to provide a clearer and more complete perspective. If you have a very complex divorce that involves several businesses, homes, investment accounts, and assets it might make sense to work with someone who can look at them as a whole. Additionally, a divorce financial planner is used to working closely with divorce attorneys and may be able to provide the information in a more succinct format, making it more easily able to be used in your case.

There are pros and cons to using a divorce financial planner. In the end, you’ll need to decide if he or she can provide the best services for your needs and if the expense is worth it.

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Help Your Child Cope with Parental Relocation

If you or your ex are relocating, you know it is going to be hard for your child to stay close to the non-residential parent.  However, if you are the residential parent, there are many things you can do to encourage them to interact and many ways to provide support during this difficult adjustment.

Plan It Out

The most important thing you need to do when your child is no longer going to be living near the other parent is to sit down and have a detailed talk together as parents about how you’re going to make this work.  If you’re the one moving, you may have had to get court permission and a court-approved plan for visitation, but even so, there are details that need to be worked out.  It’s essential that, as the residential parent, you make it clear to the other parent that you want his or her relationship with the child to thrive, despite the distance.  You need to emphasize that you want to support their relationship.

Spell It Out

Once you and the other parent have a plan, share it with your child.  Your goal is to reassure your child that the long-distance parent is still going to have an parenting important role.  For younger children, it can help to use to a calendar to show when they will go visit the other parent.  Color that area of the calendar in or use stickers to make it stand out.  Share all the details of the different ways child and parent will be able to stay in touch in between visits.

Plan Expenses

Discuss travel expenses.  If your child will be traveling to visit the other parent, who is going to do the driving, or who is going to pay the airfare?  Arguments over these costs are the most common stumbling blocks to long-distance visitation and if you can negotiate them now, you’ll save yourselves, and your child, a lot of heartache later.  Many parents share these costs, but if there is a large financial disparity between your incomes it may make sense for the wealthier parent to pick up the cost.

Make a Tech Plan

 

Schedule regular times for calls, Skype, or FaceTime between parent and child. If your child is old enough, getting him his own phone can make it easier to stay in touch. Create an open door policy so that the other parent can call or text the child at any time.

Share

Non-residential parents often feel out of the loop even when they’re living in the same town with their children, and it can be worse if they are across the country from their child.  As the residential parent, make a point to share things that are happening in your child’s life with the other parent.  Instead of throwing out homework papers that come home, stuff them all in an envelope and mail them every week or snap photos and text them.  Forward along the school or classroom newsletter.  Email photos you take of your child and record dance recitals, plays, or important games.

Reach Out

Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone, or encourage your child to do so, to ask the other parent for suggestions for school projects, sympathy over a sprained ankle, or help with a friendship problem.  Remember that a lot of the time our work as parents happens when our children reach out to us with a problem.  The other parent won’t have the opportunity in those moments unless you encourage your child to reach out.

 

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Making Kids Go on Visitation

It happens in every family at one time or another.  You have a parenting plan in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s schedules.  And then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it.  Most often this is a refusal to go on visitation with the nonresidential parent.  It can be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens.  The nonresidential parent feels hurt and betrayed and a bit angry too.  He or she begins to wonder if the other parent somehow put the child up to this.  The residential parent feels frustrated and worried.  He or she wonders if there’s something going on at the other house he or she is unaware of.  And both parents are hit with a sudden disruption of the schedule they had adjusted to.

So what do you do when your child won’t go?  The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.  Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval.  There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days.  Similarly, you can’t let your child decide to just skip visitation.

Visitation is more than just a schedule.  It is a connection to both parents.  And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely essential for your child.  Children are not in charge of visitation.  Parents are.  Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive.  Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens.  If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him.  Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life.

Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child’s refusal to go.  Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go.  Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  This isn’t good news, but it isn’t bad news either.  You have to remember that it will pass.

If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent.  If your child isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed.  A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games.  If there is a real complaint about visitation, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent.  The other really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation.  Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.

If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front.  Insist together that there is no other option.  If the residential parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent’s role.  If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t really care and is seen by the residential parent as yet another failure.  The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.  If your child refused to get out of bed to go to school, you would find a way to make him go.  You’ve got to do the same in this situation.

If your child is a teen, she may need more control over visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that she can write the other parent out of her life.  Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.

It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice, then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality of the situation.

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Could Nesting Work for Your Family?

Instead of getting a divorce and having two separate homes the kids rotate through, nesting is a newer concept where the kids remain in the existing family home and the parents take turns staying there. Some parents each get their own new place and rarely some will share one other place that they are never actually in together. Often parents rotate on an every other week schedule, but any schedule that works for the parents is definitely possible.

The idea is that the kids remain safe and sound in the “nest” or family home. Their living arrangements don’t change and they aren’t shuttled around from place to place. It allows the kids to have a more stable environment and familiar surroundings as they adjust to the divorce. The children experience as little disruption as possible and can continue with the same school, same activities, same schedule, and essentially the same life as prior to the divorce. The benefits of that are huge.

Nesting can be quite expensive though. Maintaining the existing family home as well two additional homes is a huge financial burden most families cannot take on. Nesting can also be challenging for the parents. You’re sharing a home with your ex even though you’re never there together. You don’t actually see each other (except for planned meetings or occasionally passing on your way out) yet you’re sharing a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area. All of the conflicts you had about not doing things the same way or disagreeing about how a household should be run will continue.

It can also be difficult to uproot yourself every other week and stay someplace else. Packing clothes, work things, toiletries, medications, and everything else each week can result in some giant mix-ups.

Another challenge is that after divorce, it’s common for the parents to gradually evolve and make some changes about who they are, what they think, and how they live their lives. This is often gradually reflected in parenting styles that can change. If this happens during nesting it can be confusing for kids who may find the parents suddenly are implementing different rules within the same home (Mom says no eating in the family room, but Dad says it’s ok, for example).

I worked with some families who tried nesting and most found that it worked as a short-term transitional method. It wasn’t something they wanted to do long-term, but they found that for a few months to a year after the divorce it was a great way to help their kids adjust and also give themselves time to figure out what to do with the family home and to find other places to live permanently.

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