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10 Rules for Getting Through a Divorce with Children

Going through a divorce with children is one of the hardest, most stressful events you will face in your lifetime.

10 rules to make your divorce with children a little bit easier.

1. Acknowledge your cranky inner child — and put her in time out if necessary.

When the stakes are high and emotions are raw, it can be hard to act as objectively or calmly as you would like in a divorce with children. Giving up control over your children and not knowing what’s happening at the other parent’s home can be devastating. Especially if you are worried about your child’s physical safety, emotional wellbeing or academic success, it can be darn near impossible not to become crazy when your ex won’t help your child like you think he or she should. Divorce with children is emotional and you will not always be at your best – you will revert to your child self at times. That may mean shutting down or acting out. By slowing your communications down you will reduce the risk of saying something you didn’t mean to say. Avoid text messaging or even live conversation in favor of email and take your time when drafting emails. As an additional precaution, ask a friend or trusted advisor to take a look at your communications before you send it. Take a time out when things get crazy. And forgive yourself for not always being your ultra-awesome reasonable adult self.

2. Believing what “everyone” says.

In a divorce with children you will hear many conflicting things about divorce during this process. Your story is unique. Your marriage and relationship is unique and so will be your divorce. You don’t have to do what your friend did when designing a parenting plan and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how you co parent your children. Timing, parenting plans, communication styles and parenting style all vary widely between parents. If you are stuck, get advice from people you trust. Trust your attorney. If you don’t, you need a new one.

3. If it’s not a court order, it doesn’t count.

Seriously. Even if the judge made a comment in court that didn’t end up in the order, it doesn’t count. You can’t enforce what a judge said, even if it was on the record, and there is no telling whether the judge will remember what he or she said previously or if they will rule consistently in the future. We prefer mediated agreements. Where we craft the order that meets the specific needs of your family. We like to take the guess work out of as much as humanly possible. That’s why it takes so long for us to draft our settlement proposals and settlement agreements.

4. A court order is not a suggestion.

This relates to number three. You MUST follow all of the provisions in the court order or be prepared to face the consequences. This can be very difficult in practice. Sometimes, in a divorce with children a court order comes with certain assumptions. For instance, let’s say you and your ex agree on a mechanism for exchanging information regarding shared children expenses and a procedure for reimbursement using a shared spreadsheet. Then the spreadsheet breaks, or information begins disappearing. Some court orders are black and white- you must pay child support on time. Other’s are more wobbly- you must use a specific spreadsheet. If you find yourself in a position where you aren’t sure how you can comply with a court order because of practical impossibility, talk to us, we can probably make a proposal that will protect you legally should you find yourself in an enforcement action. More on enforcement here. 

5. You can hate your ex, but it can’t affect your kids, your decision-making, or the rest of your life.

If you hate your ex, I get it. But it’s truly dragging you down. Hating your ex is a drain on your physical and emotional energy. The goal should be for you to be at a place where you honor what the two of you had and shared and created. You loved this person at one point and shared your lives together. Your hate is probably hurt. Getting therapy for the post traumatic stress you are feeling can be a fantastic way to gain back control and live your best life. That’s right, I just compared divorce to war and any other seriously traumatic experience people go through. It is not uncommon for people experiencing divorce or post divorce to have symptoms of PTSD. Your safety, security, identify, and financial wellbeing have all been threatened. Your children will have a whole new life and you may be frightened about the stats you have read on children of divorce. It’s ok. There is no shame in acknowledging the massive trauma that is divorce. But you can and should move through it. Get a counselor, maybe try EMDR. Your whole life will be better when you decide to move beyond hating your ex.

6. The ONLY person you can control is yourself.

Say it again. Like a mantra. This. is. so. hard. If we embrace this fact, we are more likely to settle the case, keep our emotions in check, and end up with the best possible outcome. By focusing on being the best version of yourself you end up with greater control over your outcome and you will be a better parent for your children. Sometimes, the very best you can do is realize that your new job is to be the very best parent you can for your children while you have them. You can’t make your ex feed them they way you would like, do homework the way you would like or even discipline them in a way you both agree upon. You have given up this control and influence over your spouse and your kids. The best you can possibly do is to give your children the absolute best version of yourself when you have them and give them tools to be the best people they can be when they encounter hardship- that may even include your ex’s house. (This does not apply if your children are being physically or emotionally abused).

7. Practice saying “whatever.”

You cannot sweat the small stuff. This is especially difficult if you are a detail oriented, anxious or ultra conscientious person. If you are emotionally in tune with people around you and sensitive to their feelings and positions, it can be absolutely devastating to have people around your fail to reciprocate. How can you both honor your superpower and let it go when other people do not treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Tip 1: Refer to rule 6. Tip 2: Write down what is most important to you and go back to this list. If it’s not on the list — let it go. Practice letting it go. Take up Yoga or meditation. Affirmations can also be very helpful to the emotionally sensitive super heros among us. If all else fails, embrace your inner pre-teen and throw your best What-evah!

8. Before you do it, ask yourself what the judge would think.

Your life is on display to be judged — literally. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable aspect of going through a divorce with children. Anything you may do or say could be deemed “relevant” to the “best interests of the children”. Imagine your every move being recorded and judged. Every text you send, every email you send, every comment you make on the phone to your ex, could be displayed for the judge to, well, judge. Even while going through this mess, you must be above reproach. This is where self care becomes extremely important. You cannot expect yourself to get through this on your best behavior without ample sleep, good food, friends, and some healthy outlets for all this anxiety. Many people need short term medication for depression or anxiety- IT’S OK. Whatever you can possibly do to make your life easier, do it. Ask your boss if you can flex your hours when you have the kids and work longer days when you don’t. Trying to pack 100% parenting into 50% time can be really tough, so look for creative ways to make your life easier.

9. It’s time to get ridiculously picky about your records — because your case depends on it.

Let’s say this isn’t your strength. Maybe your ex paid and filed the bills, Maybe this has never really been an issue. It is now! Get all of the important documents you need for your divorce and beyond and create a new filing system for yourself. You may find yourself moving quite a bit in the next few years so consider investing in a scanner and some cloud based storage solutions. Get your passport, your social security card and your parent’s will out of your house before you move out. Make checklists. (Here is a link to our evidence organizer). Do not rely on friends, family or your attorney. Keep track of dates, times, events, receipts, etc. One of the most difficult parts of a divorce with children is that previously, you divided duties. You were not responsible for every aspect of running a home by yourself. Your spouse either contributed financially or in many other ways like bill paying, cooking, cleaning, transportation, discipline, etc. Now it’s all you. You will grow. You can develop skills and strategies for those areas of life you previously relied on others to tackle. You can be the best version of yourself.

10. Take care of yourself. No one else will.

This starts with being emotionally kind and forgiving yourself. Forgive yourself for the failure you feel that is divorce. Forgive yourself for not raising your children in an intact family or for disappointing your parents or friends. Forgive yourself for not meeting religious standards or sticking with your vows. Instead focus on the fact that you did your best, and probably so did your ex. Life isn’t always linear and things can only get better. The stress you are feeling with make you a stronger, healthier, kinder and more empathetic human. After you emotionally give yourself a break, don’t forget about your physical body. It needs more sleep, better food, more rest, and movement. You cannot count on your ex, your friends, your kids, or your family to meet your needs. YOU MUST make yourself a priority and take care of yourself. Exercise, meditate, eat well, don’t drink too much. You know the drill.

For more information on child custody in Arizona, check out our comprehensive guide here.