Children and Divorce

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The divorce process can be painful and devastating to your emotional well-being and can affect your time, money, and, most importantly, the relationship you have with your children. During a divorce, it is important to keep the needs of the children at the forefront.

Going through the process of divorce can be anguishing and, even after the divorce is finalized, it can be a difficult time adjusting to your new situation for both you and your children. The divorce attorneys at ShounBach are ready to assist you with your divorce as you transition with your children into the next phase of your life. To learn more about how our divorce lawyers can help you, call 703-222-3333.

What to Consider When Divorcing With Children

Divorce is often filled with numerous disputes and can become flagrant, especially when two parents fight over the custody of their children in the family home. While parents each can present a strong case as to why they are the best individual to have the responsibility of being a custodial parent, a judge will take into account the child’s best interest, as well as aspects of the parents’ lives, including income, health, and age. It is important to share personal details with your attorney so your case can be prepared to present your argument strongly. One important thing to keep in mind is that no judge will like it if your children are placed in the middle of your divorce. It is important to keep your children out of it, not to share information regarding the divorce and not to speak negatively of the other parent to your child.  

What Are Temporary Orders in a Divorce in Virginia?

When pursuing a divorce in Virginia, sometimes temporary orders, also called pendente lite orders, are given to address issues such as child custody, child support, healthcare, alimony, and the preservation of marital assets so that they are available for property division. Temporary family law orders offer a mechanism for spouses to address these, and other important issues before a formal divorce is settled.

Essentially, temporary orders are a way to help you and your spouse wade through any gray areas while the legal process is underway and in many cases create a status quo. Divorce is sometimes a long, drawn-out process, and temporary orders help couples and their children navigate this difficult time with legal documents that outline exactly what needs to be done and by whom.

What Are Some Ways to Help a Child During the Divorce Process?

Some of the most difficult issues we face in divorce cases involve children. Whether children are toddlers, teens, or adults, when their parents separate, there is always an adjustment period for them to get used to the idea and the practicality of having divorced parents.

Many parents who come into our office fear the impact that divorce will have on their children. While great care must be taken in broaching the topic of divorce with your children, doing so does not have to be nearly as painful an experience for your children as you might expect. Fortunately, there are many ways to support your children during this difficult time.

Seek Direction from a Mental Health Professional Before Telling the Children

Many people find it incredibly helpful, particularly with smaller children, to seek feedback from a mental health professional before even introducing the idea of separation or divorce to their children. The idea of divorce can seem very scary to children, and it is critical to ensure that children are told about divorce in a way that is age-appropriate.

Young children may need to hear more about what will be changing in their daily lives, whereas older children may be able to better understand the concept of marital status and what divorce will mean on a less tangible level. It may also be important for parents to have a plan (even if it is only a short-term plan) so that when children ask questions about what to expect, mom and dad can provide reasonable assurances about what is going to happen to the family.

While each child is different, children of different ages will interpret an event like divorce in various ways. Children will do better, overall, if their parents seek professional advice about how to introduce the ideas of separation and divorce. When talking to children about these significant changes occurring, it is a time to put personal feelings aside. Ideally, parents should broach the subject as a family unit in a way that shows a unified parental front, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time.

Find Your Child an Independent Support System

Parents going through divorce have many resources available to them. Psychologists, therapists, and guidance counselors may be able to provide children with neutral outlets for their feelings about divorce. Some schools offer student support groups consisting of other students who are going through similar adjustments in their own families.

While it is important to have a certain level of openness with your child in addressing his/her feelings about the divorce, many times, children need to have an independent source of support – one that is not directly tied to their parents. This allows them the ability to truly express feelings about their changing families without worrying about hurting their parents.

Stay Involved in Their Life

Children, more than ever during their parents’ divorce, need to know their mom and dad are there for them. Make it a routine to spend time with them, doing fun things on a regular basis, and always keep “in the know” about what is going on in your child’s life. Children who are struggling with the separation of the family may find it affects child relationships with others as well, especially if they are feeling down over a custody battle. Keeping involved will minimize their stress, and they will know they are important and a priority.

Be Supportive

Children need to know that they can come to you with questions about divorce. The tough part is how to answer their questions while maintaining an ability for them to feel secure. Even if it is tough to talk about your spouse, the separation, custody arrangement, or any other events happening, it is important your kids know you are always there for them and will answer their questions, along with providing love and support with whatever they need.

Do Not Be Negative About the Co-Parent

Counselors often tell parents it is important to be honest with children about divorce proceedings. However, it can be just as important to know how much information to share and how much to keep between you and your spouse.

It is often very difficult to avoid sharing too much information with children, especially given the emotions surrounding divorce. However, it can be extremely damaging to children to be privy to one parent’s snide remark about the other parent, for example.

While we all make mistakes sometimes, it should be the top priority of any separating or divorcing parent to protect children as much as possible from the dispute that exists between the two of you. Your children need to adjust to the idea that the family will soon be living in two separate households, but they do not also need to be dragged through the anger and hurt that is often felt between soon-to-be ex-spouses.

What Age Does a Divorce Most Affect a Child?

Divorce will affect younger children differently than it will older children, although all age groups will be affected. Children between the ages of 6-12 are the most likely to be negatively affected.

Preschoolers 

This age group, generally between 3 and 5, is inquisitive and trying to figure out how they fit into the world. During a divorce, all that is familiar changes, although they are not quite sure what is happening. In response to the unfamiliarity, they may cry or display poor behavior more frequently. Routine can help, as can amicable parent communication and involvement.

Pre-teens 

This can be a tough age for kids who are facing their parents’ divorce. They are old enough to remember happier days and to recall when things went sour, such as any fighting or domestic violence incidents. They may blame themselves and heavily worry they caused their parents to fight.

Children this age may struggle with depression, anxiety, become uncommunicative, or withdraw from activities that usually make them happy. Angry outbursts are also common because, at this age, a child cannot understand why mom and dad cannot just stay together.

Keeping a divorce cordial helps reassure children it is not their fault and that their parents still love them. Additionally, finding good age-appropriate books about divorce to read to them and permitting them to ask questions can help as well.

Teenagers

Teens are more inclined to understand why divorce is occurring and can be more accepting. However, understanding the “why” may not make it easier for them. If they have witnessed fighting or a very tense and uncomfortable home life, a separation may be a relief to them, and they may not feel that their parents should stay together. While teenagers may argue less and not suffer outbursts, it is still important to remain active in their lives and provide lots of reassurance. Having open and honest discussions, along with offering to work with a counselor, can help.

Regardless of age, understanding your child’s issues and worries, along with reassuring them, can go a long way. If possible, develop a good co-parenting plan with your spouse. You can help to minimize any problems that can emerge.

What Is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, child custody is split into two different types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody deals with which parent has the ability to make important decisions regarding their child. This includes healthcare, school, religion, and other important decisions. Generally, either one parent will be awarded sole legal custody or the parents will share joint legal custody; the latter means you and your spouse will share decision-making and equally have a say.  In most cases, legal custody is shared by both parents.  

Physical custody addresses where the children will live and the schedule that they will see each parent.  Physical custody schedules can range from a more ‘traditional’ schedule, where one parent has primary physical custody and the other receives visitation rights to the other end of the spectrum where parents share joint custody and the children spend an equal amount of time at both parent’s homes. To determine what physical custody arrangement is in the children’s best interest, the judge has to consider a list of factors laid out in the statute. 

Can You Request a Change in Custody?

In Virginia, you can request a change of custody if there has been a material change of circumstances since the last custody order. You will have to present your case and outline both what has changed and the reasons why you believe custody should change. It is important to understand until a change of custody is approved, you are required by law to follow the current, judge-approved order.

Are You Battling for Custody of Your Children? 

Every child is different. The correct way to guide a child through the process of divorce, and the resulting life adjustments can vary with each child and the unique circumstances of each parent. Parents should avail themselves of every opportunity to increase their knowledge on how to effectively help their child through this difficult process. Your life and that of your child will be better for it post-divorce.

As one of the largest law firms dedicated solely to family law and estate law in Virginia, finding a Northern Virginia divorce attorney perfectly suited to represent you is what we do. We have the experience and courtroom power to advocate effectively for you and your family.

To learn more about how Shounbach can help, call 703-222-3333 or complete our online contact form to speak with an experienced family law attorney at Shounbach.


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Written By ShounBach

Since 1975, ShounBach has served the Northern Virginia community. Our team brings over 200 years of combined legal experience and has grown to be one of Virginia’s largest family and estate law firms.

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