7 Rules All Divorced Dads Need to Follow
Sep. 21, 2021 Fatherly
With 36% of all marriages ending in with that outcome, the United States has the third-highest divorce rate in the world. Perhaps a more heart-breaking statistic is that 50% of all American children will witness the end of their parents’ marriage. The impact can be life-changing.
As a father, the way you manage the process of divorce, to get the best from a bad situation while ensuring your actions have little if any harmful impact upon your children, is vital. But what should you keep in mind? To offer some advice and hard-fought wisdom on the subject, we spoke to a variety of fathers-who’ve-been-there as well as divorce experts. Here is the divorce advice for men all dads should keep in mind.
1. Don’t Go It Alone
“Do not attempt to manage a divorce without professional legal help,” insists Roy Smith, not his real name, a divorced father of two from Pennsylvania. “Although you might be tempted to ‘work things out’ you can soon find that co-parenting issues emerge, or something else like money gets in the way. It is best to consult with professionals and to use a mediator if possible.”
Even if the initial separation runs relatively smoothly, be prepared for complications further down the line. “People tend to come to us when things have gone wrong – and our data shows that’s around three years after separation,” explains Adam Colthorpe, Chair of Trustees for Dadsunlimited.org, a UK-based advice and support service for parents, grandparents, and guardians.
What tends to happen, per Colthorpe, is this: Things go fine for a while. But sooner or later one of the parents gets a new partner, or something else emerges that renews conflict. “These can be geographic changes – one parent moving home – or the children progressing from one age group to another, or a health issue occurring in a child,’ he says.
2. Avoid Dishing Dirt
It’s crucial for both parties to either not discuss their ex or only mention them to the kids in a positive light, suggests Mediator Dori sSwirtz of DivorceHarmony. “It can only hurt the children if you speak negatively to them about their other parent,” she says. “ It’s best for Dads to focus on their own relationship with the kids and really tune in to their wants and needs.”
In Shwirtz’s experience many dads actually grow closer to their kids with divorce. “Since they may have limited time together, they use that time to connect and appreciate their special relationship.”
Roy Smith concurs. He advises dads to keep a level head and remember that your children need both parents. It’s important, he adds, to not disparage the other parent in front of the children and not be passive-aggressive either — your kids can pick up on it.
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about children is that on some level they understand that they are a split of their parents and when you disparage one, you are disparaging your child,” says Smith.
3. Consider Mediation
“Mediation is a crucial piece of the puzzle for the majority of divorcing couples,” insists Shwirtz. Mediation empowers both parties to make the decisions for themselves. “When it comes to their mutual priority — the children — nobody knows what to do better than the parents.”
In most cases, Shwirtz adds, it’s in the best interest of the children if mom and dad are making the decisions via mediation and not a judge who knows nothing about them. “They are also more likely to carry out their agreement since it was made by them,” she says.
Addressing and agreeing on issues via mediation at the earliest stage is vital, according to Roy Smith, who insists that it’s important to avoid seeing divorce as a ‘closure’.
“Certainly, there was a part of me that believed once we were divorced that parenting would be easier but this is not usually the case,” he says, “I found that whatever issues are causing you to get divorced in the first place will most likely be present during the remainder of your co-parenting.”
4. Please Don’t Use Your Kids As Pawns
Children can easily become weapons in a battle between parents, witnessing raw emotions, and often being manipulated by one or both parents if things turn toxic.
“I always tell both parties you can only control your own behavior when it comes to interactions with your children,” warns Shwirtz. “It can be frustrating sometimes if you don’t like what your ex is doing with the kids but as long as they’re not putting them in danger, you really don’t have a say anymore.”
Abide by any agreements, disentangle your children from arguments where possible, and don’t attempt to distort the reality of what they’re witnessing.
“I was the victim of that in my situation,” explains Jonathan, not his real name, a separated father of two from New Jersey. “My ex would say things about me to our children whenever they were staying with her during our separation. Just lies in order to make me sound like it was all my fault. I tried to just stay the course, to make everything as stable as I could for them. I’d say things like ‘Mom’s just saying stuff because she’s not dealing with this very well. But inside I was angry and upset.”