Got Questions About Kids and Divorce? Got Other Questions?

As I was cleaning out a filing cabinet yesterday, I came across some old newsletters from my early days of working with divorcing women. One of the newsletters included three questions from three different women along with my answers. Because these questions are still pertinent, I thought I would share them with you now:

Question: I am a woman with low income. It’s my first marriage and I want a divorce. I don’t know how to go about this. What is my first step? Sam W.

Answer: Divorce is challenging no matter what the circumstances, but having low income certainly makes divorce more challenging. That said, it’s still doable.

I recommend doing as much research about divorce as you can ahead of time: Know all the different modalities (mediation—including integrative mediation if it’s available in your area—, collaborative divorce and litigation), research divorce professionals in your area, and even explore the idea of doing a “kitchen table divorce” with your spouse where you sit down together and talk about how to divide assets and time with kids (if you have them.) Note: Even if you do your own divorce you would still be wise to have an attorney look over the agreement before signing.

Some counties have resources for people with fewer means. Research whether there is a legal self-help center or low income family law center near you.

Another thing to know if that if you have no children, no major assets, no debts over a certain amount, and you have been married for under five years you may be able to get what’s called a “summary dissolution.” (Not all states have this option). This process will save money on filing fees and lawyers and will cut down on the costs and time, although you still may have a waiting period in your state.

Finally, there may also be an option in your area to ask the court to waive filing fees.

A court clerk would likely be able to talk to you about these last three options and whether they’re available to you.  

Nolo Press is another wonderful resource for those who want to reduce court costs so be sure to check out their website as well.

Question: Do you find that kids adjust to divorce better if they’re younger or older? For example, does a child under three years of age do better than a 12-year-old because they never remember anything but living in two households? Marianne F. 

Answer: How children adjust to a divorce depends on many factors. It actually isn’t divorce that harms children; it’s parents fighting that harms children. Even very young children can be negatively impacted by stress.

If parents are fighting over custody arrangements and finances, kids will feel caught in the middle and it can be extremely detrimental to them. Reducing tensions and/or having heated discussions out of ear shot are beneficial to your children.

Most children need reassurance (they need to hear that you both love them and will always be there for them) and to feel like they have some level of choice. Where appropriate, including your kids in some of the decisions (such as what color to paint their room), can help give them a sense of involvement and empowerment.

Age is certainly an important factor. Younger children often adjust better in general because they are younger and—more times than not—more resilient.

Different children have different needs. Regardless of age or gender, some are more sensitive than others, some are more fear-based than others and some are more independent than others. Treat every one of your children as an individual and do what you can to give them what they need.

A fabulous resource to learn more on parenting through divorce is a program called Kids Turn they have programs throughout the Bay Area as well as other parts of the nation. They also put out a book called, Good Parenting Through Your Divorce, which I can’t recommend enough. This book goes over the developmental phases of each age-group. It lets you know what your children need and what to expect if they don’t get their needs met.

Question: I am in the middle of a divorce but some of my friends and family still want to see my husband, even though he betrayed me. I feel so hurt and angry that they don’t support me and cut off the relationship with my husband. What should I do?  Patti Y.

Answer: This can be quite challenging. I’m sure on some level it feels like your friends and family are betraying you by staying friends with your soon-to-be-ex but they really are not. They have a right to maintain their relationship with him. Try not to take their contact with him as a personal affront. I’m sure they don’t mean to bring harm to you.

You can certainly set clear boundaries with them by letting them know that if they stay in touch with your ex, you don’t want to hear about it; you don’t want to be updated on his life, and you also don’t want them telling him about you. You can also let them know that their continuing to connect with him is hurtful to you, but you can’t make them end their relationship with him.

It always feels better when friends and family “back you up” in a situation like this but, as long as they’re being supportive to you in other ways, try not to take their ongoing relationship with him as them betraying you. I know it’s easier said than done but in time, the pain will lessen.

Note: These are real questions from women I worked with years ago. All of these women were in heterosexual marriages but these answers apply across gender roles. I have also included links to current websites that were not in my original answers.

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