How Does Divorce Affect Child Custody in Bellevue, WA?

June 24, 2022

It’s no secret that divorce is hard. It’s hard on everyone involved. There’s broken trust, anger, disappointment, and a myriad of other emotions associated with divorce. Sadly, when child custody is involved, the adults often forget that they are hurting too.

Even if the divorce is an amicable one, the children sometimes feel that the divorce was somehow their fault or that the parent that left no longer loves them. They don’t understand the adult issues that have caused their parents to no longer live in the same home. Their world has been turned upside down.

Different children react differently to divorce. Their personalities dictate whether they go with the flow or struggle through the process. Don’t underestimate the resilience of the children but pay attention to how they are feeling and behaving during and after the divorce—as parents, knowing the signs to look for can help you help your children navigate what can be a terrifying time for them.

Even before you receive your final divorce order, you can take the initiative to help your children understand what is about to happen.

What to Do Before Receiving Your Final Divorce Order in Washington State

As hard as divorce is on the adults, the children often don’t understand what is happening and can blame themselves for their parents divorcing. This guilt adds extra stress to the children that they don’t understand. To help the children through the process, here are some tips for talking to them before your final divorce order has been signed.

  1. Don’t keep the divorce a secret, and don’t wait until it’s final to tell your children. Tell them before you finalize so they are prepared for upcoming changes.
  2. If you can, tell your children about the divorce together. That helps them see that you are making a decision but that you both still care about them.
  3. Don’t over-explain. Keep your words simple, and give them a chance to ask questions. Only provide them with the information they want.
  4. Make it clear that the divorce is a decision the two of you are making, and it is not their fault. Tell them nothing they did cause you to want to be apart and that you aren’t angry or upset with them. Especially make sure they understand whichever parent is leaving isn’t angry or upset with them.
  5. Admit that everyone will feel upset or sad. They must understand that it’s okay to feel upset, sad, confused, or even angry, but it’s also essential that they know appropriate ways to express those feelings.
  6. Give them reassurance that both of you still love them, and no matter what happens in the future, you will always be their parents. You simply won’t be living in the same house anymore.
  7. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of the children. Don’t discuss your issues or your spouse’s faults with your children.

Often fear dictates how the children behave when their parents have decided to divorce. They need you to reassure them that even if you can no longer live with their other parent, you will always love them. Talking honestly with them on their level will help them to feel safe.

Sometimes, children may reject whichever parent they feel is at fault for the divorce. It could happen for no known reason, or the other parent could be prompting the behavior. This is a rare occurrence, but it’s painful for both the rejected parent and the children. It’s best to try to avoid this situation if at all possible.

What About Child Custody?

In every situation where children are involved, custody issues become a primary concern. Your final divorce order in Washington state will include detailed instructions for child custody. Technically, the courts in Washington don’t refer to the arrangements made for children as child custody. Instead, the term parenting plan is used.

When you are divorcing in Washington, you have the opportunity to negotiate a parenting plan with your soon-to-be ex-spouse before going to court. An experienced divorce attorney can help you with the negotiation process. The most crucial focus of your plan should be what is in the best interests of your children.

When a judge is deciding your case, the best interests of your children will be the standard used to determine the terms of your parenting plan. If they determine your plan has been written to punish the other parent rather than promote your child’s best interests, your plan will likely be thrown out, and you will have to begin again. Or the judge could decide to throw out your plan and favor your ex when they make their recommendations for your parenting plan and child support in your final divorce order.

Behavioral and Health Concerns for Children Following Divorce

Even with the best parenting plan, the children are still experiencing multiple changes. Keeping a watchful eye on your children will help you determine how they are adjusting and if you should seek help beyond that which you can give. Here are some of the potential issues children face during the process and following the final divorce order in Washington.

  • Mental health issues: the risk for mental health problems increases in children following a divorce. Sometimes, divorce causes an adjustment disorder that disappears within a few months of settling into the changes. However, long-term issues like depression or anxiety can become part of your child’s life.
  • Behavior issues: children experiencing the divorce of their parents sometimes start to act out in school, at home, or in public. Delinquent behavior, poor conduct at school, and difficulty controlling impulses are all behaviors that parents should be aware they could see in their children. Children can also have issues with friends and classmates after a divorce.
  • Trouble with academics: regardless of the performance in the academic area before the divorce, children often struggle for a bit after the divorce. This is typically more profound if the children were surprised by the divorce.
  • Risk-taking: this behavior is mainly seen in teenagers. They tend to use risky behavior as an attention-getting mechanism. They may use substances or engage in sexual activity before they are emotionally mature enough for that behavior.

Helping Your Children Adjust

Children who experienced their parents’ divorce can become adults who have difficulty with relationships. You can do some things to help your children adjust during and after the divorce process. These strategies can help them deal with your divorce and develop more healthy relationships later.

  • Have a peaceful co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. If you are yelling, screaming, and engaging in threatening behavior when dealing with your child’s other parent, you add to the child’s stress level. The key is for the two of you to work to form a co-parenting relationship that is beneficial to the children and peaceful for you.
  • Don’t put your kids in the middle of your conflict with your ex-spouse. Be an adult, and converse with your ex yourself rather than asking your children to deliver messages. Don’t ask the children to choose between you and your spouse. Accept that they love you both and need you both to love them in return.
  • Maintain healthy relationships with your children. Stay positive and warm when communicating with your children. Nurture habits that keep your relationship with your child a happy one.
  • Discipline consistently. The children need rules and consequences. Appropriate practices followed by consequences when broken rules help children feel safe in their space. Effective discipline also helps to lessen the risk of adverse behaviors and poor performance in school.
  • Keep an eye on your teenagers. When you know what your children are doing and who their friends are, you reduce the chance of risky behaviors.
  • Let your children know that they can deal with the upcoming challenges. Don’t allow your children to fall into feeling helpless and victimized by your divorce.
  • Teach active coping strategies. Teach your children how to deal with the issues they are experiencing. Help them learn problem-solving skills and how to manage their feelings and thoughts appropriately.
  • Help your children feel safe with their new situation. Let them know they are loved and that your love for them will not change.
  • Learn co-parenting skills and strategies to help your children adjust to new living situations and routines.
  • As a parent, you may need to seek professional help to manage your stress level so that your child can better adjust.

Sometimes, you may need to seek professional advice for your children. The children may need a neutral party to talk to about your divorce. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional for your children. They often need help expressing all of their emotions regarding their new reality.

Hiring a Bellevue Child Custody Attorney to Help You and Your Family

As a parent, you can help your children navigate the emotional tide when you are getting a divorce. Even before your final divorce order in Washington, you need to be aware of how your divorce is affecting your children. You may begin to see behaviors that you find unacceptable, or they may retreat into themselves, refusing to interact with anyone.

It’s essential to keep your child’s well-being at the forefront of any decisions regarding your dealings with your ex-spouse. Consult with one of the experienced divorce attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm to learn how to navigate your divorce while helping your children adjust.


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