Divorce - What About the Children?
FAQ's Answered by the Pros
What are the rights I will have with my children if I get divorced?
A. Divorce impacts children throughout the rest of their lives, and studies show even adult children have negative results with the divorce of their parents. Divorce impacts children more than the death of a parent, according to some studies. With counseling and reasonable accommodation to make sure the children see both parents regularly these impacts can be minimized. Parents must step up and make sure their children feel secure and not that they are losing a parent. Children are assigned a Law Guardian who will interview them. If the children are old enough, the Law Guardian assigned by the court will ask where each child is most comfortable. A child's answer might surprise the parents because the depth of their insecurity is sometimes hidden to keep the family peace. Make sure you children are secure in your love even when they are away, and never use them as pawns in adult arguments. That is grounds for modifying your visitation rights. Custody in our state is usually joint -with one parent being the main place of residence -i.e. placement or custodial parent -but both parents are encouraged to stay involved with the children and their school and other activities. Do not badmouth or criticize a spouse to the children, or in front of the children not just because it is wrong, but also because it is so damaging that a Family Court Judge that sees or hears about that can modify your parental rights. Your children have a right to love both parents whether they love each other or not.
How is Child Support determined and who pays it?
A. There is a formula for child support based on a percentage of parental income that has a scheduled additional percentage for each additional child. Non-earning spouses are given an estimated earnings table and that is used to determine payments even if the earner does not reach that exact amount in wages. Both parents are expected to support the children to the level they previously knew -realizing that maintaining two households makes this more difficult. The parents are responsible for the care of the children even if it requires sacrifices. Child support must be spent on the children for housing, food, clothing, childcare, healthcare, transportation and activities. Education at the same level the child is used to must continue, if possible. Family Court will be available post divorce for a substantial change in circumstances such as if the custodial parent is using the money for luxuries instead of the children's needs. Parents cannot use the children's money for vacations without the children, etc. and the court may intervene if this occurs. Some highly educated and high earning parents are responsible for their childrens' education through college, and this is often part of the settlement.
Child Custody and Visitation-what is the best way to set them up?
A. Child custody is part of the divorce decree and both parents are responsible to honor it and their children by contributing to a healthy atmosphere for the children. Unless the parents can work it out, the more complete and detailed the visitation agreement, the easier the transition will go from one household to two. There is nothing worse than having disappointed parents arguing over who gets the kids for the first holiday or birthday that comes up and ruining it completely for the children. The more that is written down the more secure both kids and parents will be. New traditions can evolve around the new schedule. Perhaps Dad and his parents want the kids every Christmas Eve because that's when they traditionally opened gifts. If Mom is ok having Christmas Dinner with her extended family -or going to Grandma's house -then it will work out every year. Alternating holidays seems like a good idea, but in reality that does not result in security or new traditions for the new family structure. All previous family holidays and religious observances should be on the list. THINK about the holidays -and Birthdays -and how to make sure the focus is on the kids. Do you want the weekend before or after a birthday -or the actual date of the child's birthday? What about parent birthdays and Mother's and Father's days? Civic holidays and traditional vacation times should be on the planning list. Did you visit relatives at a cottage on the lake every year? That can't be moved to December. Get a copy of the school calendar and note any and ALL holidays and number of no school in-service days that repeat each year. Your work and vacation schedule may change over time, but your children will only be with you a short number of years, believe it or not. Families that address these issues in writing will be much happier even if they didn't get everything they wanted because, at least, there will not be fighting at every holiday and they can plan ahead.
What About School Breaks -Who Gets the Kids?
A. Children are quite resilient if they learn early that they are loved no matter what and that their needs will be addressed to the parents' best ability. The age and interests of the child will determine how to set up school breaks. Both parents must plan for this time, and hopefully make it special. Day camps and summer camp can help out and be something to look forward to if the parent listens to the child. Do not sign the child up for band camp if all the friends are going to soccer camp. Parents should budget for these needs and each should take care of special enrichment activities as their funds allow. Scout camps or non-profits like Boys and Girls Clubs have sliding scale enrollments to help parents on limited resources. Do not give up your child's future because you have fewer resources after divorce. Going to the Zoo or a Farm are enrichment activities that can be done in an afternoon. Children benefit by spending time with a parent learning about anything, and it sets the stage that learning can be a fun and lifelong activity. Single parent groups have many outings for parent and child that you can join and sometimes get a group discount. If your child enjoyed a particular summer activity every year make sure that you write it in the custody and visitation plan. Divorce is enough upheaval with moving-try not to change the child's school or activity schedule any more than necessary. Make sure to make room for the child's friends visits and activities together too.
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