Parental behavior has a great influence on the emotional adjustment of their children. This is equally true after the dissolution of a marriage. The following time-sharing guidelines have been found to be helpful to children in managing time with parents in separate households:
- Time sharing should be pleasant not only for the children, but for both parents. Time with each parent should help your children maintain a good relationship with both parents.
- Time with the children should not be limited to the former marital home. Unless otherwise decreed in unusual cases, each parent will have the children in his or her home overnight, take them to school and out for activities, sports, shopping, and visits with friends and other family members, and on trips and vacations.
- The question is often asked, “Should the children go to a parent’s girl/boy friend’s house?” Introducing the children to a new romantic interest may be confusing for the children, so do so only after giving careful thought to the children’s ages and needs, their adjustment to the separation, how serious your new relationship is, and other factors of your case.
- Keep your scheduled time with the children as much as possible, and when you do have to make a change, be sure to inform the other parent in advance. Missing time with the children without notice and planning may be construed by the children as rejection. Your dependability and punctuality are duties owed to the children and the other parent.
- Over the years there will be many schedule adjustments that are agreed to by both parents in advance and these are not problematic. But missed visits and too many last-minute schedule changes for one parent’s convenience or unpredictable whims will lead to bitterness and conflict between the parents and will ultimately confuse and hurt the children.
- On the other hand, there are times when last-minute schedule changes cannot be avoided, and you should work with the other parent to accommodate these changes as smoothly as possible for the children. Next time, it may be you that needs help from the other parent.
- Often parents question where they should take the children when it is their scheduled day and what should be planned for them in the way of amusement, particularly if they are young children. Activities may add to the pleasure of your time together, but most important of all is your involvement with the children. Giving of yourself is more important than whatever material things or experiences you may give to your children. A dizzying round of too many fun activities will probably not be appreciated by the children. A massive assault of special treats and gifts may be resented by the other parent and it will surely give the children the wrong idea about life and your role as their parent.
- Your time with the children should not be used to check up on the other parent. The children should not be pumped for information. They should not be used as little spies. In such a climate, the children’s perception is that they must take sides or lie to one of their parents and they will suffer. Over time they will begin to fear that pleasing one parent will hurt the other or cause the other parent to be mad or reject them. This, obviously, is not fair to the children or good for their well-being. For this reason, parents should always show respect for each other.
If you want the help of a family law attorney that can assist you with the negotiation of a custody agreement or custody litigation, the Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar has many attorneys available and dedicated to helping you through your separation and divorce.
If you feel you need the assistance of an attorney but do not want to litigate custody, a collaborative law attorney may provide you with the help needed to negotiate your differences without the threat of litigation. In collaborative law, each client retains a lawyer trained in collaborative law and you work toward settlement. However, if you are unable to agree upon a resolution and ultimately must go to trial, neither of the collaborative attorneys can represent the parents in the litigation.
If you decide that divorce is the only answer to your marital differences and that help to restore the marriage is no longer what you want or need, you may still want to consider getting professional help with the dynamics of the separation and eventual divorce. Advice from friends and relatives while well-meaning, often further aggravates or confuses the situation.
Professional counseling can assist you in dealing with your problems and your children’s problems at the same time. A psychologist or other counselor, with professional academic training, can offer insights drawn from the experience of counseling hundreds of parents with problems much like yours, who have gone through this process before you.
If you want to communicate well with the other parent, but have trouble doing so on your own, a mediator, counselor, or co-parent coordinator may be able to assist you and provide the opportunity for you and the other parent to talk constructively. There are many trained and experienced professionals available to help.
Help is available. Seek your attorney’s assistance in locating the proper professional to help you with your parenting issues.