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What can be done to minimize the pain of divorce for your children?

As I have written in my earlier blogs, children will have negative reaction to their parents’ divorce. How to minimize their pain will depend on how divorcing couples handle their divorce situations and how they behave, especially in front of their children. Children need to understand what is going on so they don’t feel “left in the dark” and out of control. However, they don’t need to know every dirty detail and every angry remark you make while you are being separated. Provide truthful information which is age appropriate, emphasize that divorce is not their fault and that your love for them will not change. Do not bad-mouth the other parent to your children, even though you may feel angry and frustrated with him/her, and even though you absolutely truly believe that your ex-partner is totally in the wrong. When you do bad-mouth, children feel that they need to take sides and that increases their feeling of guilt. Another trap many divorcing parents fall for is that they use their children as confidantes. Doing that will make your children feel guilty towards the other parent. Also this way you may overburden them with the information that they absolutely do not need and thus increase their already high stress level. It is a very good idea to consult with a mental health professional on how to help your children cope with your divorce, especially if you feel that the situation gets out of control. If both parents can work with the same mental health professional to minimize their children’s pain and stress, that would create a more stable environment for them. Another very important tip for the divorcing parents is to be as consistent as possible, especially when it comes to visiting and keeping plans. Your children have just experienced a major loss in their lives. By keeping the routines going you help them to maintain some normalcy and equilibrium in their lives.

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The way your kids react to your divorce depends on their age

How children react and make sense of their parent’s separation will vary depending on their age and stage of development at the time of their parents' divorce. Children younger than two or three years may have fewer negative effects, especially if the bond and close relationship with both their parents is sustained. Still babies do feel their parents’ distress, might cope poorly with alterations and discontinuity in schedules and might also feel unprotected. Preschoolers (children three to five years of age) might blame themselves and believe they have caused their parents’ divorce. At this age, children may fear being left alone or abandoned and for that reason might regress into a baby-like behavior. They might become uncooperative, depressed or angry. They will yearn for the absent parent especially if they do not see him/her very often. School-aged children (six to 12 years of age) will probably have the most difficult time coping with their parent’s divorce. They are old enough to understand what is going on, but they are too young to comprehend or control their reactions to this pain. They will be torn between the two parents and feel forced to choose. Therefore, such feelings like shame, resentment, rejection, and anger are extremely common to the school-aged children at this difficult time in their lives. Adolescents will also experience anger, fear, loneliness, and depression. They will also worry about their financial security and their future plans. Some will be frustrated should they be made responsible for chores that were not part of their routine when their parents stayed together. They might question the marriage institution in general and their own ability and desire to get or stay married. No matter how old your child is, divorce will have a major impact on his/her life. Will your child have long lasting consequences? That will depend on how you end your marriage, how you build your life after divorce and how you deal with your ex-partner in front of your children. It is absolutely possible to raise happy and well-rounded children when you are divorced. It will take some hard work from both of you: but the results are certainly well worth it.

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The importance of fathers

As the divorce rate rose in the last 30 years (with custody going mostly to the mothers), and births to unwed women soared, social scientists felt compelled to look into social development of the children without live-in dads to see if they fared as well as those who do have fathers in residence. They found that while many children raised without fathers in the home turn out fine, most agree that it is crucial for men to be involved in their children's lives -- unless they are abusive. Some family experts believe that the absence of a father in child’s life is linked to risky behavior in youth due to the lack of a male role model. It has been linked to dropping out of school, early sexuality, substance abuse, criminal behavior and general "acting out." And, generally speaking, any man in the home will not do. Children living with a step-father do not fare as well as those growing up in intact traditional families; children who share a home with the mother's boyfriend do even worse. A study by Duke, Auburn and Indiana university researchers found that girls whose fathers abandoned the family before the child turned 6 were eight times more likely to become pregnant in their teen years than girls who grew up with their fathers in the home. When poverty and existing behavioral problems were factored in, the girls were still five times more likely to become pregnant. Most divorced dads fall into two categories -- those who want to more spend time with their children than was customary in custody arrangements of the past, and those who eventually drift away after divorce. I would like to note that what I am observing a very positive trend: more and more dads want to have a shared custody of their children and be involved in their children’s lives. Some dads even want to have 50/50 physical custody arrangements so that the children would spend equal amount of time in mom’s and dad’s houses. I invest a lot of time with the divorcing couples explaining to them how crucial it is for the fathers to be present in their children’s lives. I sometimes am challenged with mothers’ resentment towards granting shared custody to the fathers. When I dig deeper into this issue, I am mostly finding the feelings of anger, resentment and hurt on mothers’ side. It is not that they feel the lack of trust towards their soon to be ex-husbands, nor because these fathers are abusive. The women use the custody as a means to punish their ex-spouses. In the heat of the moment these women tend not to recognize the fact that, as noted earlier, the fathers’ presence in the children’s lives is critical to their healthy emotional development. To be a mediator for couples when such important questions are discussed, to help these couples to arrive at the decisions that are fair to both of them as well as beneficial to their children is a difficult role that can be challenging at times. Yet, it brings me a great deal of satisfaction when parents are able to put behind their anger, frustration and resentment towards each other and become a united front for their children even after their divorce.

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Splitting Up in a Downturn

Couples are increasingly using 'alternative' methods to get divorces, such as mediation and collaborative law, both of which allow partners to minimize court time and work out amicable agreements. Here are some pointers for parting ways effectively in difficult economic times: Try to meet with a financial professional or a marriage therapist separate from a lawyer to reduce hourly billing legal costs. If possible, consider a co-ownership agreement for a house or draft a strategy to sell it when the market conditions improve. Be wary of a divorce settlement that implies receiving of the shares of family businesses or shares of company stock as the values of those assets may deteriorate significantly. Include health-insurance plans and costs as part of the negotiations. Many divorces provide for child support, but may not specifically address things like paying for college, summer camp, daycare or other extra expenses. If you apply for a loan or credit card, be honest with the application and know that information on it could be used in a divorce proceeding. If a divorce filing lasts for several months, consider a temporary agreement to address financial issues in the interim.

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Social Security Planner for Divorcing Couples

People who are close to retirement age and are going through divorce should learn about their Social Security benefits. If a couple had been married for a period of greater than ten years, each of the spouses will be eligible to receive Social Security benefits on either their own or a percentage of their spouses’ eligible benefits, depending on their own retirement age. The Social Security Administration’s web site http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ offers very useful information. You will be able to estimate your life expectancy and benefits, consequences of early or delayed retirement, how postretirement earnings affect benefits as well as spouse/survivor benefits.

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