Regardless of whether or not you end up with primary custody of your child, divorce can have a significant impact on your relationship with your children and, if not handled properly, could lead to devastating results. The more you can prepare as a father and caregiver for your child and anticipate what is to come, the greater the likelihood you can make a good transition. Having seen many cases of fathers successfully and unsuccessfully managing life after divorce, there are some common attitudes and approaches that tend to appear in each case. With that said, below are a few things to keep in mind if you are a father that is currently or has recently gone through a divorce.
Staying Connected with Your Children
When the conversation of divorce is brought up, parents often think about who will get primary custody as well as how to provide for the child. They often get swept up in the stress of the separation and forget about the emotional and psychological impact it may have on their children.
While it may not be initially apparent, the impact of any divorce can have a long-lasting effect on your child. It is also noted that many children will begin to show behavioral changes within the first year of parental separation. These changes may vary depending on your child’s age—ranging from anxiety and sleep disturbances to more serious issues like delinquent behavior and academic struggles.
What is important to understand is that, as a father, your child will rely on you for emotional support, and even more so following a divorce. Some common ways you could help your child adjust to this new way of living include:
- Avoid fighting with the child’s other parent in front of them;
- Acknowledge and listen to your child’s fears;
- Support their relationship with their other parent, if healthy;
- Maintain consistency with their schedule and daily routine; and
- If necessary, seek help or support from a counselor for yourself and/or the children.
Understanding Custody and Parenting Time
The courts will always consider what is best for the child when deciding custody matters. Many jurisdictions, such as New York, distinguish between legal and physical custody. Legal custody relates to decision-making authority and access to children’s providers. Joint legal custody means that both parents have the legal authority to make major decisions about the child’s life, i.e., schooling, religious practice, health care, etc., and have equal access to all records. In most jurisdictions, this is the preferred arrangement absent a compelling reason (such as domestic violence or the unfitness of one parent). Sole legal custody to one parent means that they have the independent right to make major decisions regarding a child without consulting the other parent. Physical custody has to do with how the parties share parenting time. Parenting time can range from a true shared (50/50 split) custody arrangement to alternate weekends and just about anything in between that may work best for the child. Primary physical custody allows for one parent to be the one with whom the child or children reside the majority of the time, subject to the custodial access rights of the other parent. Regardless of the custody/parenting time arrangements, you should still seek to make sure your living arrangements are suitable and provide a place your children can call home.
Furthermore, moving from one home to another can be difficult for children. Creating a regular and consistent parenting plan early on and sticking to it will help your children learn to trust you. While it is obviously OK to treat your child to special things, maintaining a proper bedtime, helping them with their homework after school or work, and encouraging them to be responsible for their rooms are great ways to help children feel like your home is also theirs.
In some parenting plans, however, one parent may have primary physical custody of the child. With that in mind, it is important to understand that problems may arise between the parents, requiring the courts to intervene and determine visitation and parenting schedules. Parenting time is a big responsibility, and if your time is governed by a court order, missing time or failing to follow the plan is a breach of the order, which can result in legal consequences such as losing the time you are awarded or being held in contempt of court. If the court finds your infractions to be significant enough, you may face a permanent decrease in parenting time, further straining your relationship with your children.
Preparing for Child Support
After a divorce, if you are not the primary custodial parent, you will most likely be required to pay child support. Child support is money provided by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the purpose of sustaining the children financially.
While child support laws vary from state to state, generally the amount paid is determined by each parent’s income and based upon the number of children you are to support. Child support also lasts until the child is no longer legally considered a minor. Also, it is important to note that unless you are on public assistance, you have the right to petition the court to review your child support order every three years or if your income changes by more than 15%. If you are on public assistance, your case is automatically reviewed every three years, as outlined by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).
Understanding Your Parenting Plan
For divorced men who share custody with their children’s other parent, having a parenting plan is vital. Parenting plans assist in defining responsibilities and relationships, as well as providing a great foundation for avoiding future disputes.
When children are involved, courts approve and enforce parenting time schedules as part of the divorce process. Courts will consider parenting time arrangements from the perspective of the child’s best interests.
A parenting plan lays out the rules that you and your child’s other parent will follow in terms of when each of you will have custody of the children. Typical parenting plans include the following:
- Holiday and vacation rotation schedule;
- When will overnights take place;
- Which days of the week the non-custodial parent will have the children;
- Who is responsible for the transportation of the children; and
- When parents are not with their children, what type of access do they have to them?
However, parents are sometimes unable to reach an agreement on parenting time schedules on their own. Mediation is a method used by the courts to assist parents in reaching an agreement without the need for a lengthy trial.
If you go to mediation, make every effort to cooperate and compromise and have the advice of an attorney through the process. When both parties are willing to put in a good-faith effort, mediation works best. If you reach an agreement during mediation, the mediator will write a written agreement that can be approved by a judge.
Finding Success as a Divorce Father
Divorces are often a stressful and difficult process for both parents and their children. While it is not expected that you know the best practices for managing your duties as a custodial or non-custodial parent, being aware of common pitfalls and knowing what to expect can be the difference between offering your children stability and comfort or straining your familial relationships further. If you are having continued difficulties with your children or want more information about how best to set yourself up for success via parenting plans and child support, consider reaching out to experienced legal counsel immediately.
Christian J. Root is a Partner in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Binghamton office, where he focuses his practice on family and matrimonial law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (888)-529-4543.