When I meet with couples who have decided to get divorced, there is usually a significant focus on finances. Often people feel sad or angry and they turn to money to express those feelings. Either or both parties may be preoccupied with getting the house, or more of the savings, or wrangling over alimony. Frequently there are very real financial concerns, dividing assets necessarily means that both spouses end up with less, that is, of course, the nature of dividing pooled assets. The fact that this is obvious makes it no less painful. Adding financial hardship to the emotional hardship of ending a marriage makes it that much more difficult to endure. As challenging as this economic division can be, in the long run, if you have children, the real work around division will continue after the divorce.
Tied together by kids
A divorce will typically take about a year to finalize, although contentious divorces can take much longer. Raising children takes at least 18 years, and these days many parents are heavily involved with their children’s daily lives well into their mid twenties. Working out how to coparent effectively is really important, and thinking through the practical realities of coparenting while you are getting divorced is a good idea.
Coparenting (well) means communicating
I think it is helpful to get very specific about parenting responsibilities and commitments. For example, after you are divorced, you and your spouse will have to decide how to handle at least a couple dozen events each year (annual check up, sick visits, dental cleanings, teacher conferences, birthdays, holidays, plays, concerts, athletic competitions, graduations). If your child is a serious athlete, actor, musician, or is involved in some other intensive extracurricular activity, you may have another 20, 40 or more events each year to coordinate. If you have multiple children, then obviously it expands accordingly.
Make a plan
Mapping everything out on a calendar and thinking about how it all could work is a useful exercise. Even if you are incredibly angry with your spouse, it is useful to think about how you will manage the logistics of raising kids in the long run. Focusing on how to make it work for the kids shifts the discussion away from blame and disappointment. The future may be daunting, but grappling with the facts, rather than wrestling with abstract fears, is inherently more empowering.
Make a schedule
A good way to start is by drawing up a weekly schedule on a white board, or graph paper. On a regular week, who needs to be where, and when? That can help with thinking about the basic custody plan. Depending on the age of the kids, really think about when kids wake up, go to school, have afternoon activities, go to bed, do homework and so on. After you have worked through a week, pull out a 12 month calendar and think about what the year might look like. Take into account both parents’ work school or work commitments, piece it together to come up with a preliminary plan.
Calculate the cost of “extras”
You also want to think about financial planning for the children. Child support payments can be agreed on voluntarily, or mandated by a court, but there are many extras that are not included in a basic agreement. This is also something to think about. College, of course, is the big expense looming over many parents. How will that be addressed in your divorce? Along the way to college there are many smaller, but significant expenses, all those extracurricular activities can be expensive. Private school tuition is another big expense for some families. As you work through the schedule, put prices by the activities your children do, those costs need to be part of the discussion too.
Focus on the future
None of this is easy to do, and it can be very stressful. Working with a parenting coach or a mediator can alleviate some of this stress. Having a neutral third party to guide you through the steps can be very helpful. This is a lot to navigate, and most people are doing it for the first time. Take it slow and think about the day to day. If you can map out a week, you can map out a month, and then a year. Having that plan in place will give you some stability, and also provide structure and stability for your kids. This plan is critical to moving into the next phase of your life, and focusing on the future should alleviate stress, and help you feel hopeful about the future.