Divorce is difficult, very difficult. And, in my 16 years as a Family Lawyer in Perth I have seen families devastated by divorce, but more often than not I see families that grow stronger as separate units. Leaving the past behind them and moving out of the conflict zone. Don't beat yourself up if you can't follow all these tips, every situation is different. Just keep moving in a positive direction to a happier place – for you and your children.
1. When you speak about your ex in front of your children, don't say bad things. Your child often has at least half of the same attributes as your ex and if you criticise your ex, your child can take it personally. Say something positive about your ex as often as you can.
2. Tell your child the divorce is not their fault. Children commonly blame themselves – “if I was good they wouldn't have got divorced”. Tell them more than once so they understand the divorce is between you and your ex and nothing to do with anything the children have done.
3. Avoid conflict and be civil and polite to your ex in front of your children. Children are often not that concerned about the actual amount of time spent with each parent, but they will come to dread the handover if every time you and your ex meet you say nasty things, or have an argument.
4. Make it all about the children when they are present. Tell your ex something positive about the children in front of them, however small – “John used really nice manners when we went to the shop”. It not only reaffirms your ex's involvement in the children's day to day lives, it makes the children enjoy handover because they get praised.
5. Renegotiate a new positive co-parenting relationship with your ex. Even if you did not communicate well during the relationship, you should maintain a civil and amicable arrangement with your ex for the sake of your children.
6. Establish one set of rules for both households. The children will transition better from house to house if the routine and rules are the same. This will be especially important once the children realise they can play one parent off against the other – “Mum lets me stay up until 9.30”. Your response can be – “Mum and I talked about the rules and I know that is not true, but I can ring her to check if you like.”
7. Regularly tell your children that both parents love them and will spend time with them, regardless of the fact that you don't all live together.
8. Don't involve your children in the divorce by trying to get them to side with you. There is rarely a “good” parent and a “bad” parent and commonly separations are a result of many issues. Your children should not be forced to choose a parent. Keep the gory details to yourself.
9. Go to mediation if you are unable to discuss parenting issues calmly and clearly. Mediators are trained to assist people to reach an agreement (not to reconcile). This method will allow you to “compartmentalise” issues – if you can't agree how to split Christmas Day, for example, rather than have an argument about it (in front of the children) – you can say – “this seems to be a difficult issue – let's talk about it at mediation”.
10. Show your children how to deal with adversity. Divorce can be devastating, but lying in bed all day crying does not teach your children to be resilient. You can explain to the children that you are sad, but do positive things with them to show them you are trying to adapt. Accept and embrace the past, but move into the future.