According to many studies, there is only one life stressor greater than divorce and that is the death of a spouse or child. As most of us know, the divorce rate is extremely high in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, somewhere between 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, and that rate grows even higher with second and subsequent marriages.
If you are part of the half of married people who are still with your first spouse, congratulations are in order because you both must be doing something right! But, unfortunately, many of you reading this are in the 40-50% of married couples who end up divorcing. Most divorces happen after the couple has been together 7-8 years. Ever hear of the “7-year itch”? This term is used to describe the widely held belief that marriages fall into a slump at the seven-year mark or shortly thereafter.
When Kids Are Involved with the Big “D”
What makes any dissolved marriage more stressful (and heartbreaking) is that children are often involved—the casualties of divorce, so to speak. Regardless of whether your children are younger/older, male/female or adopted/biological, divorce will likely devastate them. I know that sounds very bleak, but history shows that children are traumatized when couples split.
Minimize Your Child’s Suffering
While your separation and/or divorce is pending, one step you can take to minimize the havoc your divorce will wreak on your children is to share custody in a fair and logical manner that puts your child’s needs above all else. Notice we did not say your child’s needs and “wants.”
Unfortunately, while most of us want to do nothing more than make our children happy every day of their lives, it’s not always realistic to come to a custody decision that considers exactly what they want. But you can give them what they need by working with your soon-to-be ex-spouse on a co-parenting plan that puts your children at the top of your list of priorities.
You will have plenty of time to work with your spouse to achieve your custody goals once the divorce goes to mediation, arbitration, or court. In the meantime, as the separation and divorce are pending, parents may seek “temporary custody” of their child or children. Whether you’re legally separated or just physically/emotionally separated, you can come up with a written agreement to place your children in the care of the parent most able to care for them in the way they’ve been accustomed to during their young lives or to share custody equally or to some degree that works for you both.
A written temporary custody agreement should include topics like:
- Produce a legally binding physical custody statement (whether it’s joint custody or sole custody by a parent)
- Create a physical custody schedule (where the child will live when on a day-to-day basis, weekends, holidays, etc.)
- Visitation schedule and any requirements during visits with the non-custodial parent
- Clear cut rules on the financial responsibilities of the parents and how they are to conduct their lives while caring for their children
If you and your ex cannot draft an agreement on your own, then you need legal help. You can hire a child custody lawyer, a skilled mediator, or some combination both. Since your temporary custody agreement will be done in the early stages of your separation and divorce, the final custody agreement may end up being very different.
Many couples find it impossible to agree on custody issues without the assistance of a divorce lawyer or mediator. If that’s your situation, please find a divorce attorney in your area who handles difficult child custody cases and will fight for what you want out of the divorce and custody agreement.