Daniel A. Bloom and Rachel K. Miller
Imagine this scenario: you are thinking about divorce, but do not want anyone to know yet. Your mind is flooded with questions. What do you do? Most people will do the same thing with their divorce concerns that they do with their medical concerns – Google It! While Google is a wonderful resource, it does not always provide the most up-to-date information; and it can only provide general information that may not be relevant to your circumstances. Each family is different, and there is no one size fits all solution.
This article has been modified from a presentation Daniel Bloom made to the Georgia’s Superior Court judges at the Institute for Continuing Judicial Education. This information is a good starting point for any parent considering divorce.
Overnights for Young Children
The biggest take-away from the research in this area is that parental conflict affects children more than how many nights they have with one parent versus the other. The children need to have a consistent schedule, and they need to have a positive relationship with both parents. Assuming they have those, and assuming that the parents keep conflict to a minimum, it does not matter how many overnights per month each parent has with the children. That is true even for young children. In most circumstances, there is no reason to delay overnights.
At RBL Family Law, we often encourage clients to remember that quality is more important than quantity. Parenting is not a competitive sport. Even if you have fewer overnights per month than the other parent, you can still have a close, meaningful relationship with your children. Children do not count the minutes like adults tend to do.
Exposure to Conflict
As previously mentioned, conflict between parents causes the most distress for children. At RBL Family Law, we find that we cannot stress this concern enough to clients. The divorce itself is not going to harm your children; rather, it is how you behave both during the divorce and once it is resolved that will impact your children.
That may beg the question: “we are getting a divorce, how could there NOT be conflict?” Any divorced couple is going to experience some level of conflict. However, if you are able to not expose the children to that conflict, and work very, very hard in controlling your emotions, at least in front of the children, you could prevent your children from experiencing the negative effects of parental conflict. Additionally, the research indicates that having a warm, positive relationship with at least one of the parents will be of help to the child, even in the midst of parental conflict. In other words, if one parent is incapable of keeping the child out of the cross fire, but the other parent is, the child will still survive the divorce with minimum damage.
The relocation of one parent far away from the other parent is always a difficult matter for everyone involved – the parents, the children, the practitioners, and the judge. Every person has a constitutional right to live wherever he/she wants to live. The question for the court is whether the children should be permitted to move away from one of their parents. How do we ensure that the children continue to connect with one of their parents when they live so far away? William Austin has written two articles which help professionals help parents assess the pros and cons of a move. Those factors include, but are not limited to, the age of the child, the conflict between the parents, the gatekeeping behavior by one parent, developmental needs of the child, and involvement by the nonresidential parent.
At RBL Family Law, we encourage clients to consider all of the factors before committing to move. How far away is the move? What kind of support system do you and the children have in the new location versus in Georgia? Will the children have exposure to the same types of schools, activities, doctors, and other professionals? Will the non-relocating parent be able to have a meaningful presence in the children’s lives? What benefits do the children receive from the move and do those benefits outweigh reduced time with the nonresidential parent?
Personality Disorders and Custody
Most of our clients involved in high conflict custody disputes claim that their former spouse suffers from a personality disorder. We often hear, “I read a book on the subject” or “I researched the traits” and “I am certain that my wife has bipolar disorder” or “my husband is a narcissist”. A parent’s diagnosed personality disorder could impact his/her ability to parent, depending on the particular disorder and other facts. One of the key words in that sentence is “diagnosed”. At RBL Family Law, we caution clients to not self-diagnose or impose a diagnosis on the other parent. If there is a concern about a mental health issue, tell your attorney so that he or she can involve a qualified mental health professional to evaluate the situation.
Special Needs Children and Parenting Plans
Again, every family has different needs and each family’s parenting plan should reflect those needs. If one of the children in the family has a special need, the parents should be sure to inform his/her attorneys and the attorneys should gain a basic understanding of the condition. The attorneys could also suggest using a child specialist, someone with a background in child development and childhood disorders, to help create the parenting plan.
When embarking on a divorce involving children, you should inform your attorney of all the specific facts of your case. Do you believe your spouse has a mental health disorder? Do any of your children have special needs? Do you think that you or your spouse may want to relocate far away from your current residence? It is the attorney’s job to be up to date on the research, and, if he/she is not up-to-date, then the attorney should find professionals who are able to assist him/her in the process. This blog post serves as an outline of the major issues that one should keep in mind when navigating a litigious custody matter.
- Relocation, Research, and Forensic Evaluation, Part I: Effects of Residential Mobility on Children of Divorce, 46 Family Ct. Rev. I, 137 (Jan. 2008) and Relocation, Research, and Forensic Evaluation: Part II: Research In Support of the Relocation Risk Assessment Model, 46 Family Ct. Rev. 2, 347 (April 2008).