Divorce leaves children without constant contact with one of their parents. While it is difficult to not see your child every day, it doesn’t mean that you no longer have responsibility for your child. Whether you and your child’s other parent have joint custody or you have limited (or even supervised) visitation with your child, it is still your responsibility to do everything you can to meet your child’s needs. Read on to learn more about the responsibilities that you have toward your child.
The Responsibility to Respect Your Child’s Other Parent and Work Together
It is in the child’s benefit for you to treat his or her other parent with respect during separation and divorce proceedings. Even though tempers may be high and the desire to seek revenge can be great, it’s not fair to the child. Parents have to recognize that their child now has two homes that they have the right to feel safe and comfortable visiting.
It is in the child’s benefit for you to treat your ex-spouse with respect. This gives your child the assurance that it is okay to love both parents. You don’t want your child to feel as though he or she needs to choose sides. This can be difficult during a messy divorce, especially when there has been infidelity or some other betrayal, but it’s for the greater good of the child if you can maintain an amicable or neutral relationship with your ex.
Some ways that you can maintain a respectful relationship with your ex include:
- Try to remain on the same page with parenting views. While you don’t have to have the same structure and exact rules in each home, you should respect the big rules so that the child has consistency when visiting with each parent.
- Make sure the other parent knows the whereabouts of the child when with you. This doesn’t mean you have to check in every time you take your child somewhere, but big things, like leaving them with a sitter overnight or leaving the state should be shared.
- Be willing to discuss any necessary changes to the visitation schedule due to a change in work or life circumstances. Sometimes visitation schedules need to change as children get older and get involved in more activities or have more responsibilities.
Taking Care of your Child’s Physical Needs
Your child’s physical needs don’t change because of divorce. They are still a child with the need to have food, clothing, and a safe and comfortable place to sleep. They also have the right to proper medical care. This doesn’t mean just when they are sick. It includes all regular check-ups, necessary vaccinations, and care for any ongoing issues. Work out with your ex who will take the child to routine visits and keep each other notified if the child is sick or injured and needs medical care.
At each home, there must be adequate amenities to properly care for the child’s physical wellbeing. This includes having a place to sleep with proper bedding, enough food, warmth, and affection. Parents must be willing to prepare food, ensure proper grooming, oversee schoolwork, and school forms, and ensure the child’s immediate needs are met.
Taking Care of Your Child’s Emotional Needs
If there’s one area that your child is likely most affected during a divorce, it’s emotionally. Even if he or she seems okay on the outside, chances are they are dealing with some pretty tough feelings on the inside. Each parent has the responsibility of nurturing and caring for your child’s emotional needs.
A few things you can do include:
- Help your child put their feelings into words
- Encourage that your child be open and honest with each parent about their feelings
- Keep each parent informed of the child’s emotional wellbeing
- Get your child a counselor should they be unable to portray to you what they feel
- Get the emotional help you need so that you can be strong for your child
There are also a few things you should not do so you can avoid damaging your child’s emotional needs:
- Avoid bad-mouthing the other parent in front of the child
- Try to avoid arguing in front of the child
- Do not blame your child for any of the issues that occurred that caused the divorce
- Do not make your child feel bad for wanting to spend time with the other parent
Taking Care of Your Own Needs
As much as you want to be there for your children during the divorce, remember, it’s hard on you too. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your kids. Practicing self-care includes:
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating proper meals and getting the right nutrients
- Exercising to release stress and anger
- Find support whether from a counselor, legal resource group or even your closest friends
- Rely on family and friends to help you with the kids so that you can focus on yourself
Involving the Court When Necessary for Your Child’s Best Interest
If you don’t’ feel as if your ex-spouse provides what your child needs, you may have to reach out to the court. You can take some steps before you take this drastic step, such as trying to talk it out, involving a counselor, or even hiring a mediator. Sometimes, though, the risks are too high and you have no choice but to go to court.
If you feel as if your children’s safety or wellbeing is at stake, you may even need to request an emergency custody hearing to take care of the emergency situation. Once your child is safe, the court can address the standard custody issues at a later, regularly scheduled hearing date. A legal resource team like National Family Solutions can be a great value during this time. They can help you see your options, stay organized, and fight for the rights of your child.
Divorce is hard on everyone, but the children involved still have the right to proper care from both parents. If one parent isn’t holding up their end of the deal, sometimes it takes the court’s involvement to set things straight. You are your child’s largest voice; let it be heard so that your child has the protection they need.