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Part 1: Telling Young Children about the Divorce

Part 2: Telling Teenagers about the Divorce

Part 3: Dealing with Parental Conflict

Part 4: Seeking Help from Others

Part 5: Rules, Discipline and Stability

Part 6: Long Distance Parenting

Part 7: Dealing with Troubled Children

Part 8: Coping with Supervised Visitation

Part 9: Stepparent Rights and Obligations

Part 10: Sole Parenting

Part 11: Making an Effective Parenting Plan

28 minute read

Mindful Co-parenting Guide:
Helping Children Cope with Divorce

If you are currently undergoing – or anticipating – a divorce or separation, and feel worried about the welfare of your children, this guide will help.

Most children grow up ignorant of marital problems, so divorce can be a huge shock, leaving their fragile minds hurt, angered and bewildered.

Splitting up with a loved one is an emotionally trying time for everybody involved. You have to deal with the practicalities of separation, the legalities of divorce, and your own internal struggle; all the while juggling right from wrong and trying to answer the question, "What's best for my children?"

While separation may be uncharted territory that's difficult to navigate, just remember that you are not alone. Millions of families have been in the same boat, and have done all right after creating a workable parenting plan.

Most children grow up ignorant of marital problems, so divorce can be a huge shock, leaving their fragile minds hurt, angered and bewildered.

In this Guide you'll learn:

Part 1: Telling Young Children about the Divorce

Part 2: Telling Teenagers about the Divorce

Part 3: Dealing with Parental Conflict

Part 4: Seeking Help from Others

Part 5: Rules, Discipline and Stability

Part 6: Long Distance Parenting

Part 7: Dealing with Troubled Children

Part 8: Coping with Supervised Visitation

Part 9: Stepparent Rights and Obligations

Part 10: Sole Parenting

Part 11: Making an Effective Parenting Plan

 

 

PART 1 /
Telling Young Children about the Divorce

Divorce can devastate your children for years. Help them through this diffult time by being patient, reassuring, and considerate of their feelings.

Pick a Suitable Time

You and your children must have a support system in place, be it emotionally, physically or financially. If you haven't figured out exactly how to tell your children, start making plans. Living reluctantly in a morbid, broken household isn't healthy.

In addition, make sure you take your children's educational requirements into account. For example, announcing your separation just before your son takes an important exam could be detrimental to his future.

Never leave without saying Goodbye

It's not over until it's over. Unless you and your partner are absolutely certain that the decision is final, wait. False hope of reuniting can be damaging. Children need stability and consistency to retain a feeling of balance.

Constantly upsetting their emotions by having an on/off relationship simply isn't fair. If possible, don't tell them about your separation until you have started the legal proceedings.

According to parenting speaker and Kidspot author, Dr Justin Coulson, approximately 80 percent of preschool children were never informed of their parent's separation.

DR. JUSTIN COULSON

Keep Your Reasons Broad

Divorce stories have multiple layers. While you should never lie, it may be too soon to reveal exactly what's at the core. Keep your story simple, basic and focused. You may have been dealing with years of bickering, conflicting interests or perhaps even infidelities, but revealing the main reason to your children is unnecessary – there's a time and a place.

The best option is to give your children a broad, external reason, such as, "We grew apart." Your goal is to minimize the blame on all involved parties (including them). Children often point the finger at themselves; therefore, providing a generic reason – even if it veers a little off the beaten path – will prevent them from self loathing.

That said, take age into consideration. A child of sixteen wouldn't need the same sugar-coated explanation of a child of six. If you feel like a broad explanation would cause more harm than good, decide how much or how little to tell them with your partner.

Stay United, Calm and Collected

No matter how sour or bitter you or your partner may feel, it's important to tell your children together, even if it means putting on a facade or negotiating a temporary truce. Parental conflict can root deep into a child's mind, causing them distress well beyond childhood.

Never focus on the transgressions of either parent. While it's okay to acknowledge mutual mistakes, do not dwell on them. Divorce is usually an inevitability that's rarely attributed to a single issue. The last thing you need is for your children to obsess over something that, in the grand scheme of things, didn't matter.

Keep Discussions Future Focused

Above all, your children will be anxious about the future. They will need both you and your partner more than ever. Minimize their apprehension by reiterating your love and reassuring them that they still have two parents who will continue to be in their life. That last thing you need is for your children to feel abandoned.

Creating a schedule that fits your child's needs will help them cope with the future. Young children have different needs than older children. Preschooler parenting plans should be different than plans for children in elementary school.

Look Through Their Eyes

Try to see the situation through the eyes of your children. The menial things in life that seem unimportant to you could be detrimental to them. They might be more concerned about how much pocket money they'll get or whether their dad will still make his routine Friday night dinner, rather than the emotional implications.

In the wake of separation, make every effort to continue your usual daily routines and recreational activities. This emphasizes stability and will help your children feel that, despite all of the emotional strain, they can still continue living a normal life.

Avoid Giving False Hope

Be completely honest about the future and never, under any circumstances, give your children false hope. Even if you have good intentions, a white lie could be very damaging to your relationship. Children will latch on to any ounce of hope and feel betrayed if you can't keep your promises.

Be Straight and Forthright

Your children may not need to know exactly what's going on behind closed doors, but transparency from their side is very important. Encourage them to express their concerns and ask questions. Be straight and forthright; if you don't know the answer to something difficult, say so.

The memory of being told about your divorce will stay with your children for the rest of their lives. While the pain will dissipate with time, a degree of suffering and inner turmoil is inevitable as they try to comprehend what's happened, and why. Delivering the news in a controlled, civil and unified setting will cushion the blow.

 

PART 2 /
Telling Teenagers about the Divorce

Unlike small children, teenagers aren't as ignorant to marital problems. They will be aware that the marriage is dysfunctional and will want a full explanation when it ends.

Prepare for Anger

A strong parent-teen relationship will lower the incidence of disruptive and antisocial behavior. To counteract upcoming issues, show teenagers extra empathy.

While children usually react with tears and bewilderment, teenagers are more likely to react with anger – be prepared for a backlash. They may be unwilling to talk when comforted. Give them space, but don't give up.

Check in regularly (but don't be overbearing), ask how they're feeling and, most importantly, do not judge them for their anger.

Tempting as it may be, don't use your teen as a confidant. They are helpless to change the circumstances and it robs them of their childhood. Never share adult content -- talking about adultery, addictions, money problems or other issues that may have led to the divorce.

Rosalind Sedacca, Child Centered Divorce

Listen to Their Wishes

When creating a custody schedule for your teenager, involve them in the decision making process and abide by their wishes (within reason). They may point the finger and/or demand to live with a certain parent while the transition process is underway.

However, when they begin to understand that the separation was inevitable and nobody's fault, they'll start to come around. This could take days, weeks or even months. To limit problems, encourage involvement with their non-custodial parent. Arrange frequent telephone conversations, meetings and activities to reinforce the notion of a family bond.

When children hit their teens, parents often believe that they are mature enough to cope with their emotions. The brain continues to develop well into the mid-twenties; therefore, it might be premature to assume that a teenager approaching adulthood is mentally equipped to deal with the trauma of separation, and the loss of family infrastructure.

 

PART 3 /
Dealing with Parental Conflict

Conflict causes children to perceive the world as a negative place and may result in an insecure attachment towards others: trouble building relationships, connecting with parents. This could lead to a lack of sleep, issues with concentration, and possibly even delinquent behavior.

Research conducted by The Institute of Family Studies, suggests that children as young as six months old show feelings of distress when their parents argue, be it fear, anger, anxiety or sadness.

Present a Unified Front

Even if you and your ex can't stand to be near each other, swallow your pride and set your emotions aside. Arguing about divorce procedures, infidelities or any other betrayal in an uncontrolled environment will only make matters worse.

Do Not Apportion Blame

Avoid criticizing your ex in front of your children and do not, under any circumstances, argue or apportion blame while you're breaking the news – there's never been a more important time to be civil.

Cooperating with each other will show your children that, despite your separation, you can both stay in their lives. In fact, witnessing you and your ex negotiate in a calming manner can be a very positive experience.

Of course, not all situations are this simple. If you are currently in conflict with your ex and cannot cooperate in-person, try to come to an agreement about what to say before you have separate meetings.

Use Digital Communication

Sometimes it's easier to express yourself in writing so you don't act on impulse and say something you'll regret. If it's simply too difficult to remain civil in-person, discuss the logistics of parenting via email or wait until you are in the presence of a mediator.

If taking this approach, proceed with caution. It's easy to misinterpret what people are saying when you can't see their facial expressions or hear their tone of voice.

Consider a Monitored Exchange

Monitored exchanges are recommended for parents who are engaged in high conflict disputes and can't stand to be in the presence of each other.

In a monitored exchange, one parent will leave the child with professional staff at an agreed upon location or visitation site. The other will then arrive 10-15 minutes later, to pick up the child. When the day ends, the same exchange takes place in reverse.

Let the Court Settle Unresolved Issues

While coming to a mutually beneficial agreement is the ideal solution, it's not always possible. Rather than waste precious time arguing about custody, finances and other separation issues, sometimes the discussions and negotiations are better left to the court.

There's no such thing as a relationship that's entirely free from conflict. In fact, having the freedom to disagree with others and express feelings is an important aspect of stability. But there is a line. Verbal insults and acts of physical violence are never okay.

Even a seemingly harmless act, such as a moderately-raised voice or giving another parent the silent treatment, could be incredibly damaging. If you can't be in the presence of your ex without "acting out," find another way to communicate.

 

PART 4 /
Seeking Help from Others

Children live in a world where a simple "Sorry" solves almost every problem. They may not understand adult worries and responsibilities. Don't burden your children with extra baggage if you can't handle your own feelings. It's much better to seek support from other adults.

Create a Supportive Environment

You and your ex are just one leg of a shaky tripod. Don't let your children go through this alone. They should be surrounded in an environment of support and understanding.

Talk about your divorce with their teachers, caregivers and friends' parents. If your kids need professional help, seek aid from your family doctor.

Keep It Together

Keep control. It's okay to show emotion and shed a few tears, but try not to break down. Your children will be watching, all the time. If they sense your anxiety and apprehension, they will feel it themselves. When you're feeling overwhelmed, step out of the room, take a deep breath, and try to gather your composure.

Don't Rely on Your Children

Your children will inevitably become a source of comfort during the dissolution period. You may even think that they are the only good thing to come out of your relationship. But if you rely on them for emotional support, they will become vulnerable. Family and friends will be there for you if you need advice, comfort or a moment to vent your anger.

Join a Support Group

Consider joining a support group for single parents – check local places of worship and community centers. If there's nothing in your area, you could even form your own.

Alternatively, chat-rooms, forums and message boards are a great place to meet other like-minded individuals in the same position. Whether they live in another state or another country, you can still build deep, understanding relationships.

For online support assistance, try the following organizations:

Support group directory for US residents.

SingleAndParenting.org

Resources compiled by The Children's Trust.

OneToughJob.org

Read a Book

Sometimes you simply need to escape reality for a moment. Reaching over to your bookshelf is one way to ease the burden of loneliness and help you make sense of your situation. Whether fiction or non-fiction, a good book will take your mind off things for a while.

If you're looking for self-help books, try the following:

Parenting Without Power Struggles
Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected

Written by Susan Stiffelman, marriage and family therapist, licensed psychotherapist and Huffington Post contributor.

Single Parenting that Works!
Six Keys to Raising Happy, Healthy Children in a Single-Parent Home

Written by Dr. Kevin Leman, internationally renowned psychologist.

Putting Children First
Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce

Written by Dr. JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, clinical psychologist, speaker and trainer.

Speak to a Counselor

While families and friends can be a source of comfort, encouragement and love when you're going through a separation, your feelings can put them under a great deal of strain. This can eventually make them feel isolated and alone.

Counseling is a viable option in all stages of divorce, from your initial thoughts about separation, all the way up to forming a "new" family. Fundamentally, counselors are there to counsel; they won't make decisions on your behalf, but they can certainly offer actionable advice.

Keep Your Mind and Body Occupied

Keep proactive, especially during your days off. Try some of the things that you've always wanted to, but never had the time or energy to tackle in the past: keep a diary, start running, join a local club – anything to keep both your mind and body active.

Seek Physical and Emotional Aid When Needed

If you have a physical or psychological disability that affects your ability to earn money, you may be entitled to housing grants and assistants from both public and private sources. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a Voucher Program and Family Unification Program that offers low-income families financial aid when lack of housing could cause a separation.

In addition, private non-profit organization Mercy Housing operates in several states and can provide affordable rental apartments and homes to disabled parents. Note: eligibility depends on income, age and disability.

When all is said and done, try to keep negativity to a minimum, and don't forget to take care of yourself! We all need to vent every once in a while. Try to think of your separation as the beginning of something new, positive, and exciting, rather than an end.

 

PART 5 /
Rules, Discipline and Stability

To apply effective discipline, you must focus on the underlying issue. Making rash decisions or overreacting when you're tired and frustrated will cause you problems later.

Mom's House, Dad's House

Whether at your house or your ex's house, disciplinary actions must be consistent. When children have to abide by different sets of rules, it can be confusing, especially if one parent is more lax than the other.

The "good cop, bad cop" roles create tension and your children may start measuring love with time and discipline.

Keep the Power Dynamic

Enforcing rules is difficult. Sometimes it's simply easier to sigh and let your children carry on watching television past their bedtime. After all, you've already had your fair share of conflict.

Do not let the power dynamic shift in their favor. It's not fair on you or your ex. Remember, you are the parent; therefore, you have authority. Trying to always be a friend to your children can backfire and result in a loss of respect.

Create a "Chore Chart"

Work with your ex to establish a list of suitable disciplinary actions, ensuring the rules are consistent between each households.

Having a "chore-chart" in each house that highlights what your children must do is an effective solution.

Respect Your Ex's Decisions

Enforce your ex's disciplinary actions in your house as well. For example, if your husband has deemed grounding an appropriate action for bad language, but your child is scheduled to stay at your house the day after, the grounding should remain in place.

Prepare for Comparisons

Prepare yourself for the, "But dad lets us stay up late on a Saturdays" comparisons. No matter how much you try to establish a strict set of rules, they will inevitably be broken every once in a while.

Don't give in to your children to prove that you're just as "fun" as your ex. Remain stern when faced with bad behavior, "Your father and I have different opinions. When you're here, that's the way it's going to be." If it becomes a problem or an all-too-common occurrence, speak to your ex.

Focus on Strengths and Acknowledge Weaknesses

Everybody has positive characteristics. Focus on your strengths and you will instill them into your children. In addition, identify areas that you'd like to improve. Acknowledging a weakness is the first step towards seeking a solution.

If you have a lack of personal time, financial problems or struggle to retain order and discipline around the house, accept the challenge and find a way to tackle it head on. No matter how tough life is as a single parent, there's always a solution.

A study conducted by Michael Lamb showed that children benefit from emotionally stable parents (or caregivers) who focus on love, stability and fair discipline. Whether or not parents are married makes little difference.

The work of academics shows that marriage isn't paramount to a child's well-being, but rather loving relationships and order at home, be it in one or multiple households. Even if you don't get along with your ex, acknowledge their positive traits and allow them to express their loving feelings as frequently and openly as possible.

 

PART 6 /
Long Distance Parenting

The separation process is hard enough, but being disconnected from your children is much tougher. This is a very real experience for many parents who aren't together. You may be used to the idea of moving – the average American family relocates every five years – but moving without your children presents a brand new set of challenges.

The Challenges of Leaving

Whether you're moving for work related reasons, a new relationship or the need to be with close friends and family – all of these reasons are perfectly valid – it's important that you understand what you're giving up.

The following implications are very real possibilities:

Your relationship is more formal than loving.

You have to schedule holidays, have little quality time, and aren't around for the mundane elements of life that naturally build closeness.

Your children feel a lack of support.

You're never/rarely in their cheering section at school, or able to help them with their homework; this could become incredibly disheartening.

You lose your influence.

Children need both their mother and father's perspectives and outlook on life. When you're not around, your children are more likely to seek advice from who they live with.

Your children lose contact with other relatives.

If you are the bridge between your children and their extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins), your lack of presence may affect their ability to see them.

Your relationship interferes with their daily routines.

When your children have to travel to see you, they may miss out on other extracurricular activities, such as hanging out with friends and playing sports.

Your children feel abandoned.

They either feel like you abandoned them, or they abandoned you; neither reaction is healthy.

Tips for Long-Distance Parents

Communication is most important. While proximity helps, even parents living in the same house as their children can struggle to maintain solid relationships. Fortunately, the internet has made it easier than ever before for long-distance parenting to work.

To retain a positive relationship with your children, the following ideas will help.

Show interest in the people involved with their lives.

Such as scout leaders, teachers, coaches, friends, neighbors. This will not only provide an excellent point of conversation, but will show them that you care.

Initiate contact as much as possible. As an adult, your children are your responsibility.

Therefore, you shouldn't sit back and wait for them to call or write. Don't take it personally if your children don't respond to your messages straight away. It's pretty normal for kids to get wrapped up in other thoughts, especially if they're going through adolescence

If you make a plan, stick with it.

There's nothing more disheartening for children than not receiving the phone call they were promised. Let them know that they can count on you, even when you're away.

Avoid "Yes/No" questions.

Rather than asking your children "Did you enjoy soccer practice today?" ask them, "What did you do in soccer practice today?" This will keep the conversations flowing.

Think beyond the telephone.

Use every contact method available to you, even snail mail! In today's high-tech world, receiving a handwritten letter can be quite the thrill.

Use Skype for some face-to-face time.

While virtual contact will never replace your real, physical presence, it's much more personal than telephoning, emailing or using social networks.

Connect around your common interests.

Do you like the same sports, television shows or video games? If you share a passion for something, discuss it.

Play games over the phone.

Chess, backgammon and other board games can be great fun over the phone, and sure to keep you and your children entertained for hours.

App Recommendations

My Baby Book

Digital baby book that records milestones in your child's life and compiles them into a collection.

Kindoma

Video call service with a comprehensive collection of on-screen fairy tales and classics, allowing you to read your children a bedtime story from anywhere.

WhatsApp

Free web-based phone, text and picture sharing service.

Skype

Free web-based messenger and video-call service.

Tips for the Custodial Parent

As the custodial parent, you should actively encourage communication. There are some things in life that are best discussed with a female figure, and others that are best discussed with a male. For example, a girl going through puberty will probably feel more comfortable discussing their health any hygiene with their mother; while a teenage boy who's started growing hairs on his chin might want his dad to teach him how to shave.

Remind your children to call their non-custodial parent.

When children are wrapped up in their own thoughts, their scheduled call could easily be forgotten.

Keep in touch with your ex.

Let them know what's going on with your children. Share information about their grades, health and social life.

Keep the non-custodial parent fresh in their minds.

Leave a photo on their bedside table, tell stories, and remind them to "tell your father/mother" when something important happens.

Make traveling simple.

Do your part with regards to the travel arrangements and make the process as simple as possible for your children: pack their bags, print their bus tickets, make their lunch – whatever you can to make it an enjoyable experience.

Give your children space and privacy.

When your child is on the phone or chatting over the web, give them space to express themselves. They may want to discuss private personal feelings and problems with their non-custodial parent.

Offer suggestions for joint-parental activities.

Read the same book or watch the same television program as the other parent so you can both continue where each other leaves off.

Fundamentally, cooperation is the core of effective long-distance parenting. As long as you and your ex can keep communication between all parties calm, civil and frequent, relationships will thrive.

Custodial Rights for Military Personnel

Every year thousands of single parents are deployed for active military duty. Military law differs from state law; therefore, the child support, custody arrangements and rights that you are used to may not apply. Instead, the military court works with the state to determine the most suitable course of action.

Most departments in the U.S. Armed Forces require single parents to relinquish custody of their children in order to enlist. This may sound shocking, but due to the time, commitment and unstable living situations, it would be impossible to provide adequate child care.

Relinquishing custody doesn't mean abandonment. You could transfer custody to the other parent, relative, or even a family friend (providing you have consent from the other parent.) If you decide to leave the military, you can request for custody again. However, if the other parent or guardian objects, your request will likely be declined. For up-to-date military parenting resources, visit: MilitaryOneSource.mil/parenting

 

PART 7 /
Dealing with Troubled Children

It's important to differentiate what's considered "normal" and "troubled" behavior. Acting out doesn't always constitute drastic action. It's perfectly normal for children to misbehave every once in a while, especially when they approach adolescence.

Some children do develop behavioral problems as a result of separation. If this occurs, it's important that both parents take the necessary steps to resolve conflict as soon as possible.

"80 percent of children adapt well to divorce, with no negative lasting effects on their education, social adjustment or mental health", according to a 20-year-long study conducted by psychologist Constance Ahrons.

Look out for Signs

Violent behavior is a growing problem. With movies, video games, books, web sites – virtually every form of media – glamorizing violence, children can become desensitized to it.

Look out for warning signs: playing with weapons, threatening or bullying other children, violence to pets or animals, fantasizing about committing acts of crime. If you're worried, seek aid from a social worker or counselor.

Enforce Rules and Consequences

Explain to your child that there's nothing wrong with feeling anger, but that the ways in which they're expressing it is unacceptable. When your child lashes out, take away their privileges temporarily, until they calm down and apologize.

Find Common Ground

If you try to discuss your child's clothing or appearance, they'll almost certainly respond with hostility. Instead of trying to "understand" a particular social trend that they might be following, discuss a mutual interest: sports, gossip, movies.

When you both feel comfortable talking in a casual manner, other more personal topics will naturally follow.

Give Your Child Space

Sometimes all a troubled child needs is a place to call their own; somewhere they can hang up their gloves and calm down in peace and quiet. When they refuse to do chores or throw a tantrum, don't force an apology or raise your voice, just let them retreat to their own personal space to relax.

Find Ways to Relieve Anger

This applies to the whole family. Instead of lashing out at each other, find healthy ways to relieve stress and anger, such as exercise, team sports and martial arts.

Or for more creative ways to relieve tension, try introducing them to music, writing, drawing or dancing. Smart phones, tablets, television and video games won't cut it.

Serve Healthy Food

While it's okay to indulge your children with pizza and fries every once in a while, keep junk food and soda to a minimum. Cook more meals at home, using fresh fruits and vegetables. Studies have proven that healthy eating stabilizes energy, sharpens the mind and reduces stress.

Set a Consistent Bedtime

Children become stressed and irritable when they don't get enough sleep. This could also cause problems with weight, memory and concentration. Make sure your child gets at least 8-10 hours of sleep by setting a consistent bedtime.

If they have a video game console, television, tablet or smart phone, limit their use in the evenings and disable the Internet after a certain time. Most electronic gadgets and entertainment systems stimulate the mind, rather than relax it.

Control Your Own Stress Levels

When your child has an attitude problem, it's all-too-easy to overreact. Feeling stressed, angry or sad can cloud your better judgment and make it difficult to communicate. Instead of responding on impulse, wait until you feel calm – you'll need all the positive energy you can muster.

Follow Health Care Requirements

There's nothing worse than constantly fearing for your child's safety. If your child has an illness or medical condition, be it psychological or physical, that requires constant or regular care and/or medication, you must work with your ex to ensure the condition is properly monitored.

Include in your parenting plan specific language for medical issues and records. Contingency plans that can be initiated from both households should be set up as soon as custody arrangements have been made.

Seek professional aid if you're preempting a future issue or can't cope alone. Counselors and child psychologists can help target the route of behavioral or psychological problems; however, it's up to you to enforce discipline and/or take action.

 

PART 8 /
Coping with Supervised Visitation

When a child's welfare is a stake, taking chances is never an option. The court can order supervised or restricted visitation if the judge believes that the child is endangered, either physically or psychologically.

Supervised visitation takes place in the presence of a visitation monitor; someone who will oversee the interaction. The purpose is to allow the child to establish a relationship with their parent in a safe and secure manner.



Common reasons for supervised visitation:

If there is a threat of parental kidnapping, physical abuse, mental abuse or sexual abuse.

If the non-custodial parent has a history of drug or alcohol-related problems.

If the non-custodial parent has been convicted of a serious crime.

If the non-custodial parent has threatened suicide and is of unsound mind.

If the non-custodial parent has never spent time with the child.

Choosing a Suitable Supervisor

There are various types of supervised visitation: in the presence of a family member, neighbor or child care provider; in the presence of the custodial parent; in the presence of a mental health supervisor; inside a professionally monitored location. In most circumstances the court will prefer both parents to agree on a supervisor, rather than pay for a professional, which costs an average of $50 per hour.

The problem with choosing a supervisor is that parents will often select biased family members or friends. While it's paramount that somebody both parents will trust is present, children will sense tension. Try to select a neutral party who is willing to help: a member of your local church, a teacher from school (if it's summer), a scout leader. It's better to find somebody disconnected from the family and its troubles.

Follow the Rules

Supervised visitation can feel humiliating. However, in most circumstances it will end after an evaluation period. The custodial parent can ask for an extension if they don't think that you're ready for unsupervised visitation; therefore, it's crucial that you follow the rules.

Follow the visitation schedule accurately and on time. Only cancel if there is a serious emergency.

Focus on your children, not the custodial parent. Don't waste precious time talking about divorce or court; it should be a time for you and your child to build (or rebuild) personal connections.

Bring books, toys and games (if allowed), and plan how you'll spend your time together. It's better to arrive over-prepared than under-prepared.

Ask questions, but don't push for answers. Your children might not feel comfortable straight away, especially in the presence of somebody else.

Never make critical comments about the custodial parent, the court's decision, or the situation.

Follow the rules by the book. Respecting the process and listening to your supervisor could one day work in your favor.

Supervised visitation can be a very strange experience for children. Try to understand their position. They probably won't know the reason why your time together is restricted. When they ask difficult questions, don't allow your emotions to get the best of you. It's a frustrating scenario that you simply have to work through.

 

PART 9 /
Stepparent Rights and Obligations

When two families merge, the transition rarely goes smoothly. Both parents and children can become frustrated that the new family dynamic doesn't function in a familiar manner. The adjustment takes time, but providing everybody treats each other with dignity and respect, the growing pains will eventually subside.

Moving in with a new partner is an exciting experience. However, your children are probably worried about having new brothers and sisters; wondering if they'll have to call their step dad "dad"; and fearing for the well-being of their biological parent.

Plan for a Slow Transition

Too many changes at once can be very unsettling. Ease into the family unit and don't expect to feel an instant, loving connection with your partner's children straight away – expect the same from them.

Start with recreational activities: a trip to a theme park, local swimming pool, or bowling alley. And then, slowly add activities that are more reflective of daily life: an evening dinner, watching a movie, a day of shopping.

Start Making Minor Parenting Changes

Again, take it slow. Agree with your partner (the future step parent) exactly how you both intend on parenting, and then start making small adjustments.

If you don't initiate the rules in advance, your children will blame everything on your partner.

Let the Children Set the Pace

Some children will open up straight away, while others can take years. A shy, introverted child will need more time, patience and interest than an extroverted child. Let everybody – children and adults – break out of their shell naturally.

Establish Boundaries With Your Partner

Step parents should be considered more of a friend or counselor than a disciplinarian. Don't overstep the mark with your partner's children, or allow them to overstep the mark with yours. The biological parent should remain primarily responsible for discipline until a solid bond has been formed.

Just like any other nuclear family, the key to making a successful blended family is respect, stability and compassion. Don't try to make your new family a replica of your old family; embrace the differences.

Custody Agreements for Step Parents

As a step parent, you may not have as many legal rights regarding the placement, health and welfare, of your step children, but your moral roles and obligations should always remain.

In the event of divorce, you cannot petition for court custody as preference will always be given to the blood relative. Exceptions may be granted if you can provide a valid reason why the biological parent should not have custody, for example, if they are abusive or negligent.

Custody Agreements for Adoptive Parents

If you have an adopted child, the rights of their biological parents are terminated. You have exactly the same moral and legal obligations as any other blood parent; therefore, the litigation process is the same.

Custody Agreements for Foster Parents

Custody arrangements for foster parents can vary between agencies. Licenses can be revoked if you or the other foster parent can no longer support the child financially. Some religious-affiliated agencies do not license unmarried couples, which could become a problem in the event of a divorce. However, the foster parent's circumstances and child's best interests will always be dealt with on an individual basis.

 

PART 10 /
Sole Parenting

Raising children without a partner is a terrifying prospect, and an eventuality that few parents plan for. Regardless of your family circumstances – whether your partner is unable or unwilling to fulfill their duties – with love, care, attentiveness and personal responsibility, there's no reason for your children not to have a positive upbringing.

Ask Others for Help

It's important for children to have both male and female role models in their lives. Ask brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles for help – there's no shame admitting that you're struggling.

Consider taking turns baby-sitting for other parents. Child "swapping" is especially beneficial if you don't have a family of trusted relatives willing to help.

If you don't know any other single parents, contact the Extended Family charity. They will help you get in touch with other sole parent families and local support groups.

Take Some Time Out

When you're a sole parent, it's easy to place your own feelings and emotional state at the bottom of your list of priorities. Don't feel guilty for wanting to have a time-out every once in a while. Balancing work, home, school runs, cooking, etc. is tough.

Pushing yourself too hard could lead to an emotional or physical burnout; neither is healthy for your family. Find a quality childcare provider or babysitter to take the strain off your shoulders.

Apply for Financial Assistance

Don't let pride interfere with your right to receive financial support. Food, clothing, housing, transportation and medication are basic human rights.

Plenty of sole parents struggle everyday to provide for their children. Admitting that you need help is admirable.

Out of the 12 million single parents living in the United States, over 80% are mothers. Unfortunately, the majority live below the poverty line.

Although the eligibility criteria and availability of financial assistance can vary depending on the state, try the following grants:

Low Income Energy Assistance Program

Women, Infants and Children Program

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

Child Care Assistance Program

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

It's easy to dip into a state of social isolation. Balancing your time can be both physically and emotionally demanding, leaving you with no choice but to close yourself off from the world. Don't just work around your schedule, squeezing in a coffee or phone call whenever you can; sometimes you have to make time for yourself.

 

PART 11 /
Making an Effective Parenting Plan

Custody agreements differ in length and detail. While some are generic pre-written forms that have simply been ticked, stamped and filed with the court, others may be more elaborate, containing pages of rules and provisions. Fundamentally, the most effective custody agreements are created by parents who strive to meet the needs of their children.

Include Extra Stipulations

Custody agreements should contain: provisions that address legal and physical custody, a process for reviewing the plan, a method for modifying the plan, a form of dispute resolution and a visitation schedule. You can also choose to add other provisions as a precautionary measure. Establishing the rules in advance could save you and your ex a great deal of stress further down the line.

There is no limit to the amount of extra stipulations you may include in your custody agreement. If there are elements that you don't agree on, the judge can make a decision for you. However, be prepared to justify your concerns. For example, if you don't want your child around your ex's new girlfriend simply because you don't like her, your request will probably be denied. However, if the new girlfriend lost custody of her own children due to abuse and neglect, your request is more likely to be considered – you must bring proof.

You and your ex must work together. If you can't come to a decision, give a temporary agreement a trial run. This will allow you to gauge what works and what doesn't, giving you greater insight into what needs to be removed, added and adapted.

Custody Mediation

Part of the custody process involves attending mediation. Custody mediation is mandatory in some states and voluntary in others, so you should check your local statutes to see which situation applies to you. Regardless, mediation is an excellent opportunity to negotiate an agreement with the other parent.

Include Extra Details

The custody agreement will eventually become a court order that you and your ex must legally follow until your child reaches adulthood. You should include as many details as possible when making your agreement. For example, if you both agree to evenly pay for the child's medical expenses, the terms should be included in the plan. However, simply writing, "The parents shall each pay for 50% of the child's medical expenses" is a pretty vague statement. Instead, try to predict all possible eventualities:

Each parent shall be responsible for paying 50% of the child's medical and dental expenses incurred for preventative and medically necessary health care.

The parent that incurs the medical expense shall provide a copy of the medical invoice to the other parent within 10 days after receiving it from the medical provider.

If a parent should fail to provide the other parent with a copy of an invoice within 30 days of receipt, that parent shall be solely responsible for paying the invoice.

Each parent shall be responsible for paying their portion directly to the provider according to the terms of the invoice.

Should a provider require payment in advance, the parent incurring the charges shall pay the up-front costs and provide the other parent with a copy of the invoice and the receipt in order to be reimbursed.

The details in the above example may seem a bit excessive; however, your custody arrangements should be thoroughly detailed in order to prevent conflict, misinterpretation, and to protect yourselves from being taken advantage of.

Too often, people involved in custody disputes allow their desire to "win" to overshadow what's most important; their child. Children benefit from having both parents actively involved in their lives. Since most courts concede that it's in the best interest of a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, your custody agreement should mirror this philosophy.