Going through a divorce isn’t easy – especially when there are children involved. While you may have shared some of your happiest years with your spouse, things can go sour fast and it’s easy to carried away with insults, legal issues, child support drama, and more.

While each spouse would love to get their way, there’s usually some degree of compromise required in order to end things amicably and prevent future heartbreak for your children.

So, in order to avoid a messy, traumatizing fallout, follow our tips for the “do’s and don’ts” of divorce when there are children in the mix.

Do’s of Divorce

  • Do assure your kids that they are not to blame for the breakup and that they are not being rejected or abandoned. Children, especially the young ones, may feel that some action or secret wish of theirs has caused the trouble between their parents.
  • Do tell your children what is going on in terms they can understand. Marriage breakdown is always hard on children. They may not always show their distress or realize at first what divorce will mean to them. So tell them in a direct, honest, and comprehensible way. This may vary with the circumstances, age, and comprehension of each child.
  • Do encourage the children to spend time with the other parent. Your spouse divorced you, not the kids. The children should be allowed to display photos of both parents.
  • Do be on time when picking up the kids and return the kids on time. Each parent needs to make plans to be on time, or call if you’re late. It’s unfair to your children to keep them waiting, or worse, disappoint them by not showing at all.
  • Do work out conflicting plans regarding the kids. If your former spouse has plans for the kids that conflict with yours, be adults and work out the problem together. Consider the children’s’ wishes, but do not ask them to take sides.
  • Do pay child support as ordered. You won’t be credited with presents, gifts, clothes, vacations, cars, etc., as part of child support. But the withholding of residential time or visitation is not grounds for withholding child support. This is because the state, through the courts, views itself as the ultimate parent of children, so that parents can’t shortchange kids, or settle away their children’s rights in any way, because the state is sort of the back-up or default “parent” who must ensure that a minor’s interests are always served.
  • In general, try to think of your kids’ well-being before acting. This will be hard, because of your own feelings, needs, and emotions, but try, try, try.

Don’ts of Divorce

  • Don’t poison your child’s mind against the other parent by discussing his or her shortcomings. Continuing anger or bitterness toward your former partner can injure your children far more than the dissolution itself. The feelings you show are more important than the words you use. NEVER engage in conflict with your spouse or former spouse in front of your children. Open conflict between the two of you (justified or not) hurts your kids.
  • Don’t force or encourage your kids to take sides. To do so often hurts the child by creating frustration, guilt, and resentment.
  • Don’t let any guilt that you might have to interfere with the disciplining of your children. The guilt parents may feel about the marriage breakdown can sometimes interfere in their disciplining the children. A child needs consistent control and direction. Over-permissive or indecisive parents who leave children to themselves can interfere with a child’s healthy development. Children need and want to know what is expected of them. Children feel more secure when limits are set. They are confused when grown-ups seem to permit behavior that they themselves know to be wrong and are trying to outgrow.
  • Don’t miss important dates with your kids–Christmas, birthdays, graduations, etc. If you can’t be there, be sure to call or write.
  • Don’t question your kids regarding the other spouse. Make your time with the children as pleasant as possible by not questioning them about your ex-spouse, and also don’t make extravagant promises to them that you can’t keep.
  • Don’t change or cancel insurance, transfer funds, hide funds, dissipate assets, or run up credit cards or other bills.
  • Don’t refuse an opportunity to see or spend time with your children. You demonstrate your commitment to your children by being available to them, even if you are inconvenienced. Take the time and make the effort to show your children that they are a high priority in your life.
  • Don’t destroy or hide documents. Don’t take them either; making copies is better.
  • Don’t flaunt any new boyfriend or girlfriend around the kids. And generally, refrain from all immoral conduct between you and your new boy/girlfriend in front of your children. This means new girl/boyfriends sleeping over probably isn’t a good idea.
    Don’t use the kids’ exchange as a means to continue arguments. You are role models for your children so try to conduct yourselves accordingly.
    Don’t be drunk, etc. around your kids. Also, don’t visit them at unreasonable hours.
    Don’t ever talk about child support around the kids.
  • Don’t ever withhold custody or visitation, even if child support has been cut off. Time with the children by the non-residential parent is for the benefit and better development of the children. No matter what the difference of feeling or opinion between the parents, custody and, visitation should not be interfered with.
  • Don’t lavish money and gifts on any new girl/boyfriend.

Generally, try to be as saintlike as you can. But remember, you are only human and you won’t be able to be the 100% perfect person. No one ever can–in good or bad times. When you fail or fall down, accept it and resolve not to do it again and hopefully you can improve day by day.

But remember, not being a saint during the divorce process will probably cost you in the eyes of the Judge. And it will also cost you more in the wallet by necessitating more attorney and court time.

Need help navigating the divorce process and finding compromise with your ex? Contact family law attorney Jeff Jared for help in Washington State.