August 2nd, 2022
Divorce marks the end of a marriage, but other relationships continue long after the papers are signed and the divorce is finalized. When a divorcing couple has children, divorce means that their relationship will change from spouses to co-parents. Our society still clings to certain ideas about gender roles in marriage and parenting. In divorce, dads can have a learning curve around parenting if that role was managed more by mom, and moms can have a learning curve around finances if that role was managed more by dad. So developing skills and knowledge in the area that was not your focus is critical. A father’s relationship with his children should not change, but if it is not tended to, it can change, regardless of how much time a child lives with either parent. Focusing on the number of overnights, rather than the quality of the time between the parent and child, is not necessarily what is most important. The following list of divorce tips for dads can help you develop stronger skills and connections with your children regardless of parenting time.
1. Always prioritize your children.
A divorce case involves numerous legal and factual issues, such as division of property, child support, child custody, and spousal support. Disputes over any of these issues can spill over into the rest of the divorce and cause greater conflict and invariably impact the children. It can be a challenge to keep issues affecting the children separate from the rest of the case, but you must find a way to put your children’s needs first. Think about what is best for your kids. The right way forward is obvious: the kids need and deserve your support, and they need and deserve a relationship with you, both of you, in fact. Act accordingly and you won’t regret it.
Minnesota courts must consider the “best interests of the child” when making decisions about custody. That should be your focus as well. If you ever feel like you must choose between your own feelings, such as grief or anger towards your spouse, and your children’s best interests, the choice should be clear. The number one of our divorce tips for dads is children first!
2. Stay involved and informed during the divorce process.
If you are no longer living in the marital home with your children, it can be more difficult to be involved in their lives. You are responsible for keeping up with them with regard to matters like school, extracurricular activities, doctor appointments, friends, and hobbies. Choose your housing so that there is space for your children. Spend time making it feel like home to them. See if you can have some items from the other home that are familiar to them or maybe have a couple of the same items at each home.
Do not solely rely on the other parent for information about how the kids are doing. Yes, share information with each other, but it is your responsibility to be informed. That does not necessarily mean that you should not trust the other parent to keep you informed — although that could be the case in some instances. The other parent has enough to do without being your main source of information. Be proactive in keeping in touch with teachers, doctors, parents of friends, and others. The more both parents can share information with each other, the better the children will weather the divorce. They benefit by knowing that both parents know everything they need to know; they feel safe and secure. Using an app like Our Family Wizard can help assure both parents have up to date info if you both use it.
The more information you have, the more active and involved you can be. Offer to take them to doctor appointments and play dates. Go to their games and other school events to cheer them on. Let them know that you are there, and always will be. If both parents can work as a team and reinforce each other, the children will do better. Divorce tips for dads, think of yourselves as team mates for your kids.
3. Keep the kids out of the fray.
Divorce will bring up emotions in you that may range from numbness to sadness to anger. Sometimes, you may feel everything on that spectrum in rapid succession. Your kids will be dealing with their own feelings about the divorce, and they will need your love and support.
Whatever feelings you might be having towards your soon-to-be-former spouse, your children do not need to hear about it from you. What they need to know is that both of their parents love them. Do not just assume your children are doing fine, either. Kids want to be in “right relationship” with both parents and can say conflicting things to each parent if compared because they don’t want to disappoint a parent, yet it is the truth each time they say it. So giving them a resource, like a therapist or even in the divorce process a chance to meet with a Neutral Child Specialist, like in the Collaborative Process, can help children feel like they are not forgotten in the divorce and it is something that is being done TO them. A Neutral Child Specialist is there to help the parents address issues in (and after) the divorce in a child-focused manner.
4. Get support for yourself.
On a related note, you need to take care of yourself in order to be able to continue being there for your kids. That means you need your own source of support. Friends or family members could fill this role, or you could talk to a counselor or attend support group meetings. Know that friends and family can pull away if they are not able to support you and your needs are more than they can handle. So your own counselor could be very helpful, and their objectivity and calling you to task when needed can be very helpful.
Whatever you do, do not ignore or bottle up your feelings. The term “blow off some steam” applies here for a reason. Steam engines need to release steam or else the pressure will cause them to explode. Get exercise as well to help manage your steam. Pay attention to your sleep and eating because divorce is one of the highest stress experiences in life, on up there with the death of a loved one.
5. Look for opportunities to grow.
Your divorce might seem like the worst thing that has ever happened to you, and maybe it is. You can find some good among all the bad, though, if you allow yourself to look for it. Do whatever you can to rise to meet the challenges your divorce is throwing at you. Not only could it make you a better parent, but it could also help you find happiness again. Learn from this experience so you move forward stronger and wiser, not more cynical. The last thing you want it to make the same mistakes in the future. In this divorce tips for dads we recommend, learn from your experience.
6. Hire a lawyer who knows the importance of not intensifying conflict.
This might be the first time you have had to deal with something as emotional and difficult as divorce. You need help from someone who has seen everything you are going through countless times before. A divorce lawyer with experience in dispute resolution techniques like mediation and collaborative law can guide you through the divorce process in a productive manner. When emotions are running high, your attorney will help you focus on the most important issues in your case and should not put fuel on the areas of conflict, but focus on problem-solving with and for you.
7. Stay involved after the divorce is over.
Tip #2 talks about staying involved with your kids if you have moved out of the home. The divorce process can provide a sense of urgency that might help you keep your focus on your kids. Once the divorce is over, and life begins to form itself into a new kind of “normal,” you may have to work even harder to keep that focus going. Your kids will need you for a long time, and it will be on you to be there for them. The first year is always the hardest and for your kids, it all starts when their life changed, not the date of the divorce.
It is easy to get discouraged, but remember that you are the adult. Keep reaching out, keep letting your kids know that you love them and want to see them. And if your spouse or former spouse tries to deny you parenting time because “the kids don’t want it,” don’t accept the situation. That may mean you need to work on your relationship with the kids and could benefit from some family therapy. Your kids need you as much as you need them. Work with your attorney to make sure your relationship with your kids survives your divorce and the aftermath.
If you are a dad with questions about the best way to get through divorce, we invite you to contact Louise Livesay to schedule a consultation.
Family attorney Louise Livesay has helped families in the Twin Cities area resolve divorce and other family law disputes for more than twenty years. She is committing to helping her clients use Minnesota’s family laws to transform their relationships and get ready for the next phase of life. If you have questions about collaborative law, divorce mediation, or other family law matters, please contact us today online or call 651-294-2338.