By Nathalie Boutet, veteran family law lawyer, teacher, Deputy Judge and co-founder of The NEXT Program.
Most people are aware of the cost of getting a divorce. What many people don’t consider is the impact divorce can have on their children.
Here are the 10 most important things to do to protect your children when you are divorcing in Ontario:
#10. Just don’t do it.
Separations have deep and often long lasting effects on children, no matter how friendly the parents are. There are new and exciting discoveries about the human brain and behaviour that are revolutionizing what you can do when separation seems to be the only option.
#9. Measure twice, cut once.
You don’t have to be a carpenter to understand that once you cut something, it can never be whole again. It’s the same for the dismantling of your child’s foundation, the separating of their family. You may have moments where the discomfort of the separation and divorce process could provoke you in to making hasty decisions. Remember that your choices will have tremendous consequences that can be very hard to undo and that can last for years, even a lifetime. Choose your actions carefully and take your time.
#8. Avoid Court if at all possible.
If divorce is unavoidable, there are several methods to achieve a legal separation. These will range from the most cooperative and least expensive to the most adversarial and costly. They are (in order): one on one negotiation, Collaborative Law, mediation, unregulated lawyer negotiation, Arbitration, and Court. Even if you have an intention to be peaceful as you are divorcing in Ontario, the more you can cooperate during the legal separation process the less conflict, stress, and anxiety your children will be exposed to.
#7. Re-couple cautiously.
Be very careful how and when you introduce new partners. You may be ready to move forward, but it’s safe to assume that your children are probably not. Slower is better.
#6. Don’t discuss money with the kids.
Children will feel insecure if they think that money is a problem. Leave these conversations for the adults.
#5. Choose your battles.
Once you’ve decided, “I am divorcing my husband,” or “I am divorcing my wife,” keep in mind that conflict with your ex during and after a separation and divorce will hurt your children. Rather than reducing conflict, separation often increases it – to many people’s surprise. A common example is simple scheduling that is imposed on children at Christmas or other family holidays. Believe me, your kids would rather not have to get dressed (they like spending the day in their pyjamas sometimes), pack up, and abandon all of the wonderful presents Santa gave them so that they can go to dinner at grandma’s house THAT AFTERNOON. I encourage couples going through a separation and divorce to be very generous, creative and to take the real welfare of their children to heart when creating a parenting schedule.
#4. Put your kids first.
Make your children feel as if they are loved unconditionally – the most important people in your universe. Your children will need more attention during the separation and divorce process and afterwards, likely for several years. Make these times awesome and really connect and be there with your children. You can read the newspaper, load the dishwasher and check your email when they are in bed.
#3. Never put down your spouse.
Your chid is half you and half your spouse. Putting down your spouse IS ALWAYS felt by your children as a criticism of themselves. You wouldn’t use trashy words to describe your child, so don’t do it to half of their genes.
#2. Keep your promises.
There is nothing more hurtful than a parent who promises their kids they’ll do something and then they don’t. The pressure of living a separated life often results in parents being unable to keep their promises. There are parents who tell their children they will pick them up from the other parent’s house at a certain time and then show up late or don’t come at all. Imagine being those kids! Not keeping your promises breaks their heart, makes them feel unwanted, has them worry about your safety – and their own safety – and teaches them that you can’t be trusted. It’s a big deal to come to the decision, “I am going to divorce my husband” or “I am going to divorce my wife.” Getting a divorce is a giant broken promise you made when you got married. It takes a lot of kept promises with your kids to make up for this.
And the #1 most important thing to do to protect your children is:
#1. Empty your bucket before refilling it.
Empting your bucket means getting rid of the anger, regrets and resentments that you most certainly have from your marriage. Do this before you move on to another relationship. Why is this the biggest favour you could do for your children? Because the divorce rate for second marriages is significantly higher than the first one, and the last thing you want is for your children to suffer through all this again.