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Parents and divorce: How to help children through the process

To get a divorce the parties must determine how to split assets and debts as well as navigate child support and custody matters if children are present. The legal minutiae are overwhelming and can make it difficult to keep our children’s mental wellbeing in mind as we go through the process.

We can help to better ensure a smooth transition to post-divorce life for our children and ourselves by taking some proactive steps in the beginning, or early on during the divorce process.

First know the basics: Child custody law in Georgia

It helps to have a basic understanding of how the law in your area works before moving forward. In Georgia, the courts recognize two forms of custody: legal and physical. Legal refers to the ability to make major decisions that impact the child’s upbringing. This can include medical decisions. Physical custody involves who is actually raising the child on a daily basis or where the child spend the majority of their time. The parents can split these roles, or one parent could take on all the responsibilities.

Making the decision: Georgia law allows parents to develop the parenting plan

Georgia law allows parents to put together a parenting plan that outlines how the parents will raise the child and which will take on the different custody roles. The parties present the plan to the court and, as long as the plan is in the best interest of the children, the court generally approves the plan.

In order to better ensure approval, the parenting plan should address the needs of the child as they grow, who will cover the financial needs like health insurance and schooling expenses, and where the child will spend their time including how the parents will split holidays.

Once approved by the court, custody orders generally remain in place until the children each 18 years of age. There is the potential to modify the orders if there is a material change in circumstance that impacts the child’s well-being.

Setting up for success: Helping children to transition to post-divorce family life

The following steps can help parents increase the odds of a successful transition into post-divorce life for their children:

  • Control the conversation. Psychology experts with the Child Mind Institute encourage parents talk to their children about the divorce in age-appropriate terms while making sure to avoid blaming the other parent.
  • Respect your children’s emotions. They may feel angry and unhappy, they may lash out at you directly or by acting up at school. Recognize that this process impacts the children and allow them the opportunity to discuss their concerns. In some cases simply listening is enough to provide the child the validation they need. In others, additional counseling can help get them through the worst of the divorce.
  • Be a role model. Your children are watching you. They watch how you react to the divorce and how you discuss it with others. It helps to be extra cautious around the children as they will likely repeat the behaviors you model.

These steps are just one part of transitioning into a more successful life after the divorce is finalized. It can help to delegate the legal side of the process to professionals so you can focus on helping your children move on while better ensuring your rights are protected.