When you're in the midst of a divorce, it can be difficult to think of your soon-to-be ex-spouse as anything but a source of negativity. Even with all the other considerations -- asset division, relocation, finances and more -- the conflict can be hard to set aside. There's a reason you're getting a divorce, after all. Of course, the well-being of your children is forefront in your mind, but it's probably hard to remember that your soon-to-be ex is also their parent and that a divorce won't change that.
As you may already be aware, more and more studies are finding that, when it comes to parental divorce, the greatest factor that determines a healthy and stable future for kids isn't -- as experts previously believed -- shielding them from all conflict. It's a strong relationship with both mom and dad. So how can you decide what's right for your children and come up with a custody situation that works for everyone?
Traditionally, the biggest deterrent to more equally shared custody has been the assumption that exposure to high levels of inter-parental conflict will have a lasting negative effect on children. The only option, many felt, was to give kids a stable environment with, by default, their mother, and only introduce interaction with the other parent, their father, on an infrequent basis, thereby limiting the chance for negative interactions.
Recent findings, however, are challenging this assumption. After studying decades-worth of data, one researcher has concluded two key related points: that the harmful effects of conflict may have been greatly exaggerated, and that this conflict -- too often a deciding factor in custody determinations -- typically dies down after the first year or so following divorce. However, by then, the court has established custody arrangements that last throughout childhood.
The benefits of shared custody
Of course, there are obvious exceptions, such as in cases where one parent is negligent or abusive. In most situations, however, children whose parents agree to shared custody arrangements with near-equal parenting time fare markedly better on a number of fronts. From fewer teen pregnancies and less drug use to better academic success and even a brighter general outlook on life and the future, a strong, quality relationship with both mother and father seems to be the key factor. So how can you work toward such a relationship with your child, post-divorce?
Since studies indicate that the love and guidance of both parents, post-divorce, is a far more significant factor than parental strife, researchers offer the following tips for separating parents:
- First and foremost, help your child feel loved.
- Talk to your children, even -- or especially -- about difficult topics, whether that means discussing body image, grades, relationships or other challenges they may face.
- Though it can be tempting to be lenient, it's important to set rules and enforce them. Supervise your children and continue to discipline them as you always have.
- Make time to interact with your child regularly for everyday activities, not just special outings. Â Your son or daughter will benefit not just from your teachings and instruction when it comes to basic skills like yard work and cooking, but also from the time spent together.
Perhaps most importantly, try to leave your children out of most negative adult issues that don't affect them, particularly those relating to your child's other parent. Don't force your child to pick sides. If there are extreme circumstances that threaten the health -- be it physical, emotional or mental -- of your children, then there are professional resources in California that can help you take legal action to protect your child. Otherwise, you'll likely find it most beneficial for everyone if you can figure out how to co-parent with minimal conflict.