Parents who go through a divorce are going through a lot of emotions and upheaval. Most, however, are more concerned about their children’s emotions and upheaval than with their own. Understanding your child’s needs during a divorce and custody arrangement is important if you are going to support your child. A child’s needs range from physical to social to financial to emotional. Read on to find out how you can understand and meet your child’s needs as you go through your divorce.
Understanding Your Child’s Physical Needs
No matter what circumstances you and your partner are going through, you must make sure your child’s physical needs are met. These needs are the same whether or not you are going through a divorce: Your child needs a safe place to live, enough healthy food to eat, clothing, and a quiet place to sleep. He or she will also need access to medical care, whether that means routine visits and vaccinations, care when he or she is sick, or ongoing therapy for a chronic health condition.
Some of this will come down to finances, which we will discuss later. If your child is going to stay with one parent or the other, they will need to have the resources to purchase food, bedding, and so on. Some of it, however, will come down to the parents making sure that these needs are met whether the child is at the mother’s house or the father’s house. If one is living in a home where the child’s safety is at risk, this is a problem. Also, there needs to be a room suitable for the child to have privacy and to sleep. The parents both need to be willing and able to not only purchase food but also prepare it, particularly if the child is young. Part of the parent’s responsibility might be to fill out forms at the school if the child qualifies for free lunch. You will also need to determine who will be responsible for making sure that the child has health insurance.
Think about your child’s physical needs and make sure that they are being consistently met no matter where the child is on any given day.
Understanding Your Child’s Social Needs
Children are social beings, and they are going to need to continue to go to school and to spend time with others. One need that a school-aged child has is to have transportation to school. If one or both parents move to a new home, it is important to get the child registered in a new school immediately. You might also need to fill out paperwork so they can get the school bus if that is the mode of transportation.
Depending on your child’s age, he or she might have social activities that they participate in regularly. It is best to try to keep up with these activities if at all possible. If finances are an issue, young children might enjoy storytime at the library or other free activities geared toward little ones. Older kids can still go to friends’ houses, invite friends to their home, and meet other children at the park.
In addition, children who are used to seeing their extended family members regularly should be allowed and encouraged to do so as they were before. A parental divorce should not mean that children need to give up their treasured relationships with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and other family members. This is true even if one parent is given sole custody unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Understanding Your Child’s Financial Needs
Of course, meeting your child’s physical and social needs is going to require also meeting his or her financial needs. In the case of an underage child, you actually need to make sure that the financial needs of both parents are being met. Depending on your income levels, this might take some teamwork.
For a family where one parent stayed home or worked a part-time job while the other had a full-time career, both child support and, in some cases, spousal support (sometimes called alimony) will be awarded. Before a judge decides that, however, it is important to work together whenever possible to ensure that both parents have the financial resources to meet the child’s needs. It is almost never in a child’s best interest to have one of his or her parents homeless or unable to purchase food.
One or both parents might need to apply for assistance in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, or cash assistance. Since most of these programs take some time to get started, do what you can to cover your needs and the needs of your child. His or her school might be of some assistance, so don’t be afraid to talk to the guidance counselor or school social worker if you are having trouble meeting your child’s needs due to a lack of finances.
Understanding Your Child’s Emotional Needs
Finally, it is not surprising that children often suffer emotional trauma when their parents get divorced. It is important for both parents to participate in helping the child to heal. This means that both parents, when possible, should be able to put their own issues aside to focus on their child when that child is in their physical care. In addition, parents must refrain from talking badly about the other; this is called parental alienation. Not only is parental alienation emotionally damaging but it is also against the law and will not be looked upon kindly by a judge.
Some children may need counseling to work through their emotions. A family counselor can help not only your child but also both parents (individually and together) to work through the issues that have come up during the divorce. He or she can help the parents learn how to work together for the benefit of the child despite not being married any longer.
If you need help finding resources to meet your child’s need during and after your divorce proceedings and custody case, contact National Family Solutions. We are on your side and would like to help you act in the best interest of your child.