Divorce can be a difficult transition both for parents and for kids. For fathers, the feeling of being absent can be a problem. But divorced dads can remain a central part of their children’s lives after the split. Maintaining the emotional and familial connection can be a strong possibility going forward if dads follow some basic principles. Here are 8 tips:
1. Help Your Kids Cope
Divorce can be difficult for a child. All at once, their family life gets turned upside down. You may not initially see the impact of a painful divorce on the kids, so keep in mind that your kids may be hurting even if they aren’t showing it.
Most kids who experience divorce are resilient and do not exhibit psychological problems. Still, children of divorced parents are at higher risk for certain things, such as academic difficulties, disruptive behaviors, and depression. They are also more at risk for experiencing poverty, engaging in risky behaviors, and encountering their own family instability as they grow older.
Many children exhibit behavioral changes in the first year following a divorce. Most resolve within several years. Responses to the divorce vary depending on the child’s age and can commonly show up in the following ways:
- Infants: Fussiness, sleep disturbances
- Toddlers: Bouts of separation anxiety
- Preschoolers: Acting demanding and defiant
- School-aged children: Withdrawal, anger
- Adolescents: Delinquent behavior, academic struggles
Kids rely on their parents for support during and following a divorce. There are many ways that dads can help their kids as they adjust, such as:
- Avoiding fighting with your child’s other parent in front of them
- Listening to your child and acknowledging their fears
- Maintaining consistency with your child’s daily routine
- Seeking support from a counselor
- Supporting your child’s relationship with their other parent
2. Try to Stay Close By
When your kids no longer live with you full time, maintaining a relationship with them takes a little more effort. Staying in close proximity to the custodial parent’s home can make spending time with your kids more convenient.
Sometimes jobs or other circumstances can make staying geographically close to the kids more difficult. When possible, though, try to stay nearby so that your kids can feel consistently connected to you.
3. Stay Connected From a Distance
Sometimes a military deployment or a job keeps you from living near your child’s other parent. When you live far away from your kids, relationships can be strained. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder; sometimes, it can breed bad feelings.
To limit the likelihood that distance negatively impacts your relationship with your kids, establish some routines and come up with creative ways to stay connected from afar.
Some ideas for long-distance bonding:
- Care packages: Kids love getting things in the mail. Send them care packages with comforting foods, books, and stuffed animals when they are feeling ill. Mail them gifts on special occasions.
- Surprises that say “I’m thinking of you”: Send flowers on the opening night of the school play, or balloons on the day of a big game, or order pizza for them during exam week. Include a note to tell them how proud you are of them.
- Video calls: Kids of all ages need to be able to see your face and hear your voice. Consider checking in by video conference regularly. Ask them to share stories about their week, read them a book, and collect funny TikToks and memes to share with them.
4. Be Prepared for Child Support
If you are the non-custodial parent after a divorce, you will likely be ordered to pay child support. Child support is financial support—most often paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent—for the purpose of financially supporting the children.
Child support lasts until your child is no longer a minor. Laws vary by state, but generally speaking, child support is calculated based on each parent’s income and expenses.
If you are on public assistance, your case will automatically be reviewed every three years. If you are not on assistance, you may petition the court to review your case every three years. Failing to pay child support can have big consequences, including jail time, having your wages garnished, property liens, and suspension of your driver’s license.
Be sure to pay any support you are ordered to pay on time, and avoid talking about child support in a negative light in front of your kids.
5. Make Joint Custody Work
Joint custody may be legal, physical, or both. In joint legal custody, both parents have legal authority to make major decisions about education, religion, and health care for their child. Joint physical custody means that kids live with one parent for part of the time and the other parent for the other part of the time. Often joint custody involves an equal division of time.
If your kids are living with you half the time, make sure that your living arrangements reflect that. Your place should be a place your child can call home.
6. Make the Most of Your Parenting Time
Traveling between households isn’t easy for kids. Creating a predictable and consistent parenting schedule and sticking to it early on will help your kids learn that they can depend on you.
When your kids are with you, have fun, but also remember to keep things as normal as possible. Having a consistent bedtime routine, helping them with their homework, and encouraging them to be responsible for keeping their room orderly are all ways to help them feel like your home is also theirs. Of course, it’s OK to treat them to special things when they are with you, too.
Keep in mind that parenting time is a responsibility that the courts take seriously. If your parenting time is part of a court order, missing time or otherwise not following the plan is a violation of the order and can come with legal repercussions, like being held in contempt of court. You also risk a permanent reduction in parenting time if the court considers your violations serious enough.
7. Date Thoughtfully
If and when you start dating again, you may feel apprehensive, especially if it’s been a while since you were active in the dating scene. It can also be unsettling for your kids, who sometimes are secretly hoping you and their other parent will get back together.
Some parenting tips while you are dating:
- Be honest: Avoid talking in coded language around your kids or lying about a phone conversation they overheard. Kids are smart and will feel uneasy if they think you are keeping things from them.
- Calm their fears: Reassure your kids that you are not going anywhere just because you are dating. Remind them that you are still committed to them.
- Be selective: Don’t mention every date. Wait until there is something substantial to share.
- Schedule thoughtfully: Reserve dates for when your kids aren’t with you.
Waiting to introduce a new partner until you’ve entered a committed, long-term relationship spares your kids the possible pain of losing someone they become attached to if it ultimately doesn’t work out. When you’ve determined the time is right, try a low-pressure activity for a first meeting, where everyone can be active and have fun.
8. Create a Parenting Plan
Having a parenting plan is essential for divorced fathers who are sharing custody with their children’s other parent. Parenting plans help define the responsibility and relationship and create an excellent framework that can avoid conflicts later on.
Courts approve and enforce parenting time plans as part of the divorce process when children are involved. Courts will look at parenting time plans through the lens of what is in the best interests of the children.
A parenting plan will spell out the arrangements that you and your child’s other parent agree to abide by in terms of when each of you will have the kids. Parenting plans typically define the following:
- Holiday rotation schedule
- What kind of access parents have to the kids when they are not with them
- When overnights will occur
- Which days/weeks the non-custodial parent will have the kids
- Who is responsible for transportation
- Vacation time
Sometimes, parents can’t come to an agreement on parenting time plans on their own. Mediation is a tool the courts use to support parents in coming to an agreement without a long, drawn-out trial.
If you attend mediation, try your best to be cooperative and compromise. Mediation works best when both parties are willing to make a good-faith effort. If you come to an agreement during mediation, the mediator will draft a formal agreement that a judge can approve.
ZAGERLAW, P.A., is here to help you address the legal proceedings for a quick closure on your divorce. We do things differently than other lawyers and even offer mediation options. Contact our Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer for a free consultation: 954-888-8170, or email info@ZagerLaw.com. We also have a criminal law team, should you require assistance in that area. We can also be found on Facebook here.