How To Cope With Divorce and Child Custody
The end of a relationship, particularly a marriage, can be very painful, thrusting your life into unforeseen struggles. When you’ve invested time, effort, and emotion in another person and plans for a lifetime together, admitting that those dreams are over, those intentions nullified, can cause immense emotional and psychological pain for yourself and your children. The process of disentangling oneself from another financially and legally through divorce may trigger more pain and anger.
It’s important to not involve your children directly in the strong feelings you have about your spouse but to maintain the child’s normal life patterns as much as possible. Keeping tabs on one’s mental health, as well as your child’s responses, and being open to new information and new experiences helps to get through the process.
Your pain and anger are understandable, and your children are going to sense it – and likely experience similar feelings — as well. Start by educating yourself on the legal requirements, such as child support in California, then seek appropriate legal and emotional support to sustain your family through the process.
Experts say to approach the end of a relationship like a death in the family, by acknowledging the stages of grief and resolution, and giving each sufficient time to subside.
The five stages of grief are:
- Denial – this is the numb feeling you have when you’re going about your daily life and cannot believe or acknowledge that one portion of your world is ending. Denial is a natural reaction that protects us from being overwhelmed by the totality of the experience, allowing grief, anger, and other reactions to slip in gradually until the process is complete.
- Anger – This emotion helps to mask the pain of loss and to soldier on through our daily lives despite the emotional wreckage. Anger and frustration can flare up in inconsequential situations during this period.
- Bargaining – This is the desire to go back in time and correct the steps that lead to the current situation, whether to change a behavior or an action. It’s the mind’s attempt to make sense of the loss by repeating the history of the relationship again and again.
- Depression – Once you’re able to begin accepting the loss of the relationship, a gulf of depression opens up. You’re unable to imagine life without this relationship and cannot see yourself moving forward. But depression is usually temporary, and is necessary to re-establishing yourself as a single person.
- Acceptance – This emotion creeps into your daily life bit by bit until it dominates the others. It begins with the ability to complete the tasks that your partner usually did, whether handling the finances or doing the shopping and cooking. Slowly you begin to find some fulfillment and even pride in taking care of everything yourself, as the grief, anger, and depression dissipate.
If a divorce will involve dividing shared assets such as a home, financial investments, and valuable possessions, it’s a good idea to get legal representation. An attorney can also be immeasurably helpful with child custody issues too. Check out a prospective attorney the way you would buy a new car: ask friends and colleagues for recommendations, check their qualifications with the state bar association, and do a free consultation to determine if that person is responsive and helpful. A divorce attorney is someone you need to have a good relationship with even after your day in court, as questions will arise and a good attorney will know how to handle them.
A mediator may also fit the bill if your financial situation calls for a low-cost divorce and your relationship with your spouse is amiable. A mediator is a qualified professional who helps both of you decide how to divide your assets and draws up an agreement that reflects your needs going forward. It’s a less-personalized approach than having your own attorney who will advocate for your needs such as child support and is more suited for those who know their legal rights and can advocate for themselves.
A good attorney or an organized support group may both be essential for coping during the divorce process and handling the after-effects. Your attorney will ensure that your financial needs are met equitably, that assets are shared as outlined in your divorce agreement, and that any child support and custody arrangements are adhered to.
Finding a support group will help tend to your emotional needs, including reassurances that your stages of grief and loss are normal. This support can come from devoted friends and family or from an organization within your community (you may ask at a church, a doctor’s office, or browse classified ads). There are many groups dedicated to post-divorce support.
A physician, particularly a pediatrician for your children, should be consulted. Physical and psychological effects of divorce may impact your health in many ways, including sleeplessness, weight loss or gain, dangerous outbursts, and prolonged grief. In children, especially in children with an autism syndrome the effects of divorce can include similar symptoms of depression and acting out, including bed-wetting, risky behavior, and lack of interest in activities.
Turn the page
If you’re able to minimize arguments and power struggles with your former spouse, to arrange your finances to suit your new situation, and find support for yourself and your family members, you’re ready to rediscover yourself. It may take months or years to get to this point but many people are able to turn divorce into a refreshing new chapter in life with new hobbies, new friends, and a new perspective on happiness.