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July is child-centered divorce month here in the US. And as a CDFAⓇ professional, I can assure you that in the long run, centering your children usually ends up being a lot cheaper compared to litigation.

“Divorce isn’t the child’s fault. Don’t say anything unkind about your ex to the child, because you’re really just hurting the child.” – Valerie Bertinelli

What is child-centered divorce?

Often when a couple is splitting up, especially when it’s not amicable, it’s hard to focus on the real issues. If you’ve been cheated on, you’re thinking about how they did you wrong, or what they’re doing with their new boyfriend or girlfriend. You might be trying to get even, or at least take them for everything they’ve got as revenge or payback. They deserve it, right?

Well… maybe. But think about your child(ren). Does it make their lives better for you to try to get revenge on their other parent? Is it good for them to see you scrolling through social media feeds stalking your ex? Hear you badmouthing their parent? You may be incredibly angry at your soon-to-be-ex, and often rightly so, but that still doesn’t change the fact of their parenthood.

Or maybe it’s amicable, but you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to, so you unload your burden on your child. Do you think it’s healthy for them to have to listen to the adult details of your marriage and how you feel now? 

Find support groups and unload there. Search for them online or on Facebook or wherever you have a social media presence.Maybe right now you can’t attend support groups in person due to COVID-19, but there are plenty of resources on the Internet.

Or, you’re a person who’s used to having a male protector around the house, so you give your minor son the job of looking after your safety. Conversely, maybe you’re used to having a woman who cooks and cleans for you, so you offload the job onto your minor daughter. 

Obviously, giving kids chores is a good idea because it teaches them responsibility. But there’s an incredibly bright line between chores and burdening your children. Between having your children do chores like cleaning up after themselves or cooking, and shouldering the burden of an adult. All because you can’t get it together to solve the issue by yourself.

What if you’re angry with your spouse and taking it out on them financially instead? Dragging out decisions so they have to pay the lawyers more, or arguing over who gets the $100 IKEA rug because you can’t stand for them to have it. 

It might feel good in the moment. However, the more money you force the soon-to-be-ex (STBX) to pay out to the lawyers and the longer you drag it out, the less money is available for either of you. You’re not just hurting the ex financially, you’re hurting yourself and the children too. 

Child-centered divorce puts the needs of the child(ren) at the forefront of the discussion, and focuses their well-being for every decision. Your spouse may have been a bad or even terrible spouse, but are they a bad parent just because you’re mad at them? When there’s abuse going on, you need to act differently. But for the most part kids need both their parents when possible. 

Child-centered divorce will also help you and the STBX make better decisions. Divorce is an emotional time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s amicable or not, or even whether you’re the one who wanted it or not. There will be emotions, and strong ones at times. 

It’s hard to make good decisions (especially financial ones) when you’re in the midst of an emotion storm. It’s important to take much of the emotion out of financials, but it’s not always possible. 

Being able to shift the entire conversation to the kids helps get you out of your own head and focused on helping someone else. Which is going to calm you down and help you be more rational about the decision.

Child-centered divorces aren’t usually litigated, where each of you have an attorney and you go to court to argue your case before a judge. In that process, possessions and assets and grievances and anger are most often the driving forces. Not the desire to put the kids first. 

Plus it tends to drain your resources much faster than mediation, and often it’s more expensive than collaborative divorce. Also note that when you go to court that your business, including finances, is now a matter of public record.

Instead of litigation, mediation and collaborative divorce are alternative methods that can focus on the children first and be less expensive in the long run. (However, if abuse is an issue, these methods may not be preferable to litigation.)

Mediation

In this alternative method, the mediator is a trained third party who helps the two of you reach a solution. The mediator usually won’t present a solution to you. They may give you examples of success that they’ve seen in the past, especially if you ask, but their job is to help the two of you reach a solution that works for your specific situation.

This is important because it promotes compliance with the agreement when you’ve had a hand in drawing it up. For example, if one party is required to pay support, they’re much more likely to actually do it when they’ve had a say in how that amount was negotiated. 

It’s also private, so any salacious details stay with you and the mediator. They’re trained in conflict management and working with high-conflict personalities. Even if you’re not in a particularly amicable divorce, mediation can still work for you.

It’s not as specifically child-centered as the collaborative divorce process. The mediator will ask you about your values for the mediation, and if you tell them that you want to put the children first, they’ll guide you in crafting an agreement that does exactly that.

In contrast to collaborative, there’s only one professional (the mediator) to be paid during the process. However, they will likely urge you to run any agreement past your own attorney before you sign off on it. Even so, this is usually the least expensive option for your divorce.

If you’re in Southern California, you can find one here.  Elsewhere in the country, check your local association for professional mediators.

Collaborative divorce

In this process, each of you will have attorneys that are trained in collaborative divorce. It’s very different from litigation, and requires different skills. When children are involved there’s also a child specialist, and potentially a financial professional who provides neutral advice to both parties. In addition, you might choose a therapist. All the professionals are trained in this specific method of divorce.

It’s designed around the needs of the child(ren) when they’re a member of the household. All the professionals and both spouses collaborate on a solution that is best for the kids and also meets the needs of both spouses. The financial neutral and therapists are both there to provide answers to questions in their respective fields, and help the family choose a solution that maximizes benefits for both sides.

Most of the people who choose this avenue are divorcing relatively amicably. Which is ironic since the presence of all the professionals would actually be of great help to those who are not amicable at all!

In California, you can find collaborative professionals here; click here for listings outside the state.

Summary

Child-centered divorce helps keep you focused during divorce on what’s good for your child(ren). It helps you avoid emotional decisions that damage the future for you and your children, and it helps them get through the process with as little harm as possible. 

It can be much less expensive than litigation.You have some options for finding the right person to handle your child-centered divorce.

Looking for more information on divorce finances? Get the book here.

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