Guide for Divorcing Parents in Irvine: Child Custody in the OC
As a parent, addressing child custody and visitation (also known as parenting time) will be among the most important aspects of your divorce.
Getting divorced involves many challenges. However, as a parent, perhaps no challenge is greater than coming to accept that you will no longer be able to spend every day with your children. The time we spend with our children is precious, and the memories we forge while helping our children learn and grow last a lifetime. But, when your marriage is no longer tenable, there comes a time when you need to accept that it is in everyone’s best interests to move forward on a different path.
When preparing to get divorced as a parent in Irvine, there is a lot you need to know. While this certainly pertains to the legal aspects of going through a divorce with children (i.e., child custody and child support), it pertains to the emotional and practical aspects of moving on from your marriage as well. In this Guide for Divorcing Parents in Irvine, our divorce attorneys touch on all of these issues, and we provide a checklist, some age-related considerations for helping your children cope with your divorce, and a list of “dos and don’ts” for effectively managing the divorce process as a parent as well.
I. What Do Parents in Irvine Need to Know about the Divorce Process?
You are a parent with children living at home, and you have come to the decision that it is time to get divorced. What do you need to know? In the first section of this Guide for Divorcing Parents in Irvine, we discuss:
- Legal considerations for divorcing parents in Irvine
- Emotional considerations for divorcing parents in Irvine
- Practical considerations for divorcing parents in Irvine
Legal Considerations for Divorcing Parents in Irvine
As getting divorced is a legal process, it inherently involves a number of legal considerations for parents who have children from their marriage. While you will need to address these considerations in light of the unique circumstances involved in your divorce, there are some basic legal principles and guidelines of which all divorcing parents should be aware. For example:
1. Both Parents Have the Same Rights and Opportunities to Secure Custody (Parenting Time)
Under California law, both parents have the same rights and opportunities to secure custody (parenting time) in their divorce. The law does not inherently favor either parent; and, as discussed in greater detail below, all parenting time decisions must be based upon the best interests of the children involved.
With that said, when it comes to establishing parenting time in a divorce, history is relevant. If one parent has devoted more time to the couple’s children than the other, for example, this could influence the “best interests” analysis. On the other hand, working full time and devoting yourself to a business or professional career is not necessarily an impediment to securing custody, as determining what is in a child’s best interests requires an examination of all of the relevant facts and circumstances.
2. Everything Focuses on the Best Interests of the Children
In all parenting time matters, California law requires the focus to be on the “best interests” of the children involved. Specifically, the factors to be considered when establishing parenting time in a divorce include:
- “The health, safety, and welfare of the child.”
- “A[ny] history of abuse by one parent or any other person seeking custody . . . .”
- “The nature and amount of contact with both parents . . . .”
- “The habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances, the habitual or continual abuse of alcohol, or the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances by either parent.”
- “[A]ny other factors [the court] finds relevant and consistent with [California law] . . . .”
When assessing what type of parenting time arrangement is in a child’s best interests, all of the above factors need to be considered, and these factors must be applied to the specific facts and circumstances at hand. For parents who wish to negotiate a parenting time schedule without court involvement, demonstrating due consideration of California’s “best interests” factors is crucial to securing court approval at the end of the divorce process.
3. “Every Other Weekend” is No Longer the Standard for Custody and Visitation
The norms regarding post-divorce parenting time arrangements have shifted dramatically over the past few decades. While most parents today are familiar with the traditional “every other weekend” schedule that was common in the 1980s and 1990s, this is no longer the standard today. Taking into consideration the best interests of the children involved, potential options for divorcing parents in Irvine include:
- Unequal Parenting Time – Unequal parenting time is still an option, whether this means a more-traditional custody-and-visitation arrangement or the children spending the majority of each week with one parent.
- Equal Parenting Time – Equal parenting time is becoming more common in California. When developing an equal parenting time arrangement, however, it is imperative to ensure that the arrangement is workable and provides a stable “structure for your children.
- Co-Parenting – Co-parenting is another alternative that is growing in popularity as well. With co-parenting, parents continue to jointly participate in child-related events and activities after their divorce, and they openly and routinely communicate about child-related matters.
Emotional Considerations for Divorcing Parents in Irvine
Getting divorced is also an inherently emotional process, and in no aspect of the process is this more true than dealing with child custody. As a parent, it is important not to forget that your divorce will lead to difficult emotions for your children as well, and you will need to be there to provide support and reassurance both during and after the process. As you prepare for your divorce, here are three important emotional considerations to keep in mind:
1. Putting Your Children’s Needs First
Beyond focusing on your children’s best interests when developing your parenting time plan, you need to put your children’s needs first in all other aspects of your divorce as well. This means having a plan for when and how you will discuss your divorce with your children, and it means being prepared to devote the time and energy it takes to help your children understand and begin to cope with the enormous changes they will soon be experiencing.
Different children respond to divorce differently, and the nature of your post-divorce parenting time plan will have a huge impact on how your children are impacted by and interpret your divorce. However, even if you and your spouse decide to co-parent, it is still imperative to ensure that your children have realistic expectations and that they understand that things are not going to be how they were before.
2. Taking Time to Process Your Own Emotions
While it is important to put your children first, it is equally important not to focus on addressing your children’s emotional needs to the exclusion of addressing your own. Going through a divorce is hard—there is simply no other way to put it. Ignoring your emotions is not the right approach, and studies have shown that it can lead to anxiety and depression. As a result, bottling your emotions during your divorce could lead to longer-term negative effects, and experts recommend against simply trying not to focus on the feelings you experience during and after your divorce.
3. Ensuring that Your Emotions Do Not Cloud Your Judgment
While it is important to feel your feelings, it is equally important not to let your emotions cloud your judgment. Remember, getting divorced is a legal process, and this means that it is governed by laws, rules and procedures that you need to understand, accept and follow. Allowing yourself to make irrational decisions or ignore the realities of getting divorced will only serve to hinder the process, and it could potentially lead to more emotional strain for you and your children.
There is a careful balance to strike, to be sure, and this is where seeking professional advice can help. By addressing your emotions in a positive way and making decisions with your children’s best interests in mind, you can help the process go more smoothly and ensure that you feel comfortable and confident in the outcome of your divorce.
Practical Considerations for Divorcing Parents in Irvine
While most people tend to think about divorce in the abstract, it is important to acknowledge and accept that going through a divorce is a real event that is taking place in real life. With this in mind, in addition to addressing the legal and emotional aspects of divorce, parents need to give due consideration to the practical aspects of getting divorced as well. For example:
1. How Do Your Work Schedule and Career Ambitions Impact Your Parenting Time Needs and Preferences?
While working full-time is not necessarily a direct impediment to securing primary or equal parenting time rights, it is something that you will need (and want) to address proactively during your divorce. How can you make it work? Do you already have a transportation plan and childcare provider in mind? In order to avoid having your career used against you, you will want to make sure that you are thoroughly prepared to address any concerns that your desired parenting rights might not necessarily serve the best interests of your children.
In many families in Irvine, both parents work full-time, and both have career ambitions that limit the amount of time they are able to spend with their children on a day-to-day basis. When this is the case, it will usually be in everyone’s best interests to develop a parenting time plan that gives due consideration to both parents’ work schedules.
2. Is Co-Parenting a Realistic Option for Your Personal Circumstances?
While co-parenting can be a great option under the right circumstances, it is not for everyone. Even if you want to co-parent after your divorce, if your spouse does not, then you will most likely need to pursue another option. Co-parenting only works when both parents are committed to the arrangement; and, even if you are able to convince your spouse to give it a try, this does not necessarily mean that he or she will stay committed long-term.
With that said, the decisions you make during your divorce will impact the rest of your life and the lives of your children. As a result, it is important not to dismiss potential options out-of-hand. Here, too, speaking with a professional can be extremely helpful, as there may be strategies and techniques that you can use to help get all desirable options on the table.
3. Are You Aware of the Potential Consequences of Failing to Adhere to Your Post-Divorce Parenting Plan?
While a divorce is a one-time event, the outcome of your divorce will have lifelong implications. With this in mind, it is extremely important not to rush your decisions, make assumptions or make concessions simply for the sake of moving on. The grounds for seeking to modify a parenting time arrangement post-divorce are limited, and the consequences of failing to adhere to your arrangement can be severe.
Regardless of whether you and your spouse reach an agreement or you are forced to take your divorce to court, your divorce will culminate with a binding court order. Violating a court order is a serious matter—especially when the order relates to child custody. If your former spouse chooses to take legal action against you, you could face consequences, including an unwanted modification of your parenting time rights.
II. Checklist: Preparing to Go Through a Divorce with Children
Given the various considerations involved in developing a parenting time plan during a divorce, the process can quickly begin to seem overwhelming. However, if you break the process down into steps, it can feel much more manageable. This checklist will help you begin framing your thoughts in a way that will allow you to move forward with confidence:
- Are you familiar with the basics of California’s child custody laws? If you live in Irvine, all decisions you make regarding parenting time will need to reflect the requirements and restrictions of California’s child custody laws. While you certainly do not need to become an expert, having a general understanding will be important to making informed decisions during and after your divorce.
- Have you thought critically about what you want in terms of parenting time? In order to move forward with your divorce, you will need to have a clear understanding of what you really want in terms of parenting time. While many parents automatically focus on securing equal parenting rights or primary custody, making informed decisions requires an understanding of why you are pursuing a particular outcome. As you focus on the “why,” you may find that your preferences change, and that’s okay.
- Do you know what your spouse wants with regard to parenting time? In addition to thinking about your own preferences, it is important to think about your spouse’s preferences as well. If you know (or can reasonably approximate) what he or she wants, then you can factor this into how you approach parenting time in your divorce.
- Have you considered all of your options with regard to possible parenting time arrangements? As discussed above, parents today have lots of options when it comes to structuring post-divorce parenting time. Before focusing on one particular outcome, it is important to make sure that you have given adequate consideration to all of the various possibilities that are out there.
- Have you considered your options with regard to how to establish parenting time during your divorce? Likewise, when it comes to approaching how you will seek your desired parenting rights during your divorce, it is important to fully consider your options here as well. While many spouses are able to negotiate the terms of their parenting plan with the help of legal counsel, mediation, collaborative law and litigation are all options as well.
- Have you given specific consideration to birthdays, holidays, vacations and other important events? In addition to thinking about your weekly parenting time schedule, it is important to think about birthdays, holidays, vacations and other important events as well. Typically, divorcing parents will address these events specifically and provide for deviations from their routine weekly schedule.
- Have you thought about (or decided) where you will live after your divorce? As a general rule, the closer divorced parents are to having equal parenting time, the more important it is for them to live in close proximity (or at least relatively close proximity) to one another. As a result, when thinking about where you might choose to live (if you will be moving out of the family home), it will be important to keep your parenting time goals in mind.
- Are you prepared to compromise as part of the divorce process? Getting divorced always involves compromise; and, in order to set realistic expectations for yourself, it is important to keep this in mind. While you should not be willing to give up more than necessary, you should be prepared to consider alternatives to the specific post-divorce parenting time arrangement you have in mind.
- Have you thought about how you will discuss your divorce with your children? When you decide to tell your children about your divorce, you need to have a plan for doing so. Think about what you will say, when and where you will say it, and how you will respond to the questions that your children are likely to have.
- Have you sought guidance from experienced professionals in Irvine? From speaking with a therapist to consulting with an attorney, if you are considering a divorce, it is strongly in your (and your children’s) best interests for you to seek help from experienced professionals who can guide you through the process and assist you in making informed decisions.
III. Age-Related Considerations for Helping Children Understand and Cope with Divorce
As our family law attorneys have emphasized at various points throughout this Guide for Divorcing Parents in Irvine, when preparing for a divorce with children, it is important to tell your children about your divorce the right way at the right time. However, this can mean different things depending on your children’s current stage of development. For example:
- Newborns to About Three Years Old – While children in this age group have no way of meaningfully grasping their parents’ divorce, studies have shown that they can experience psychological effects as a result of their parents’ stress; and, by age three, children can begin to experience their own emotions upon learning that one of their parents will be moving out of their home.
- Preschoolers and Kindergartners Ages Four to Six – Children in the four to six age range can experience lots of emotions, and they are also likely to have lots of questions about what their parents’ divorce will mean for their day-to-day lives.
- School Age Children Between Seven and Eleven – During the elementary and early middle school years, children’s emotions can shift from sadness to feelings of anger and abandonment, and many will feel that they are in some way personally responsible for their parents’ divorce.
- Pre-Teens and Teens Age 12 and Older – In the pre-teen and teenage years, children’s thoughts and emotions can vary widely, and at this stage it is especially important for parents to thoughtfully consider how their children in particular are likely to respond to the news that their parents are getting divorced.
Learn more from Today’s Parent: How to Tell Kids about Divorce: An Age-By-Age Guide.
IV. Dos and Don’ts: 10 Tips for Navigating a Divorce with Children in Irvine
When preparing to go through a divorce with children, knowing what to do and knowing what not to do are both equally important. As you prepare to move forward, we encourage you to keep these “dos and don’ts” in mind:
DO: Tell your children your divorce is not their fault.
Your divorce is not your children’s fault, but it is possible that they may believe otherwise. Make sure your children know that there is nothing they could have done differently to keep their parents together.
DON’T: Blame your divorce on your spouse.
While your children should not feel responsible for your divorce, you should also avoid placing the blame on your spouse. This is true regardless of the circumstances at hand, and studies have shown that attempts at parental alienation can have significant detrimental effects for the children involved.
DO: Think about what you want from your divorce.
As you prepare for your divorce, think critically about what you really want. Use the checklist and information we have provided above, and take the time to develop a comprehensive picture of what you want (for yourself and your children) in the future.
DON’T: Get set on one particular desired outcome.
While it is important to have a plan, it is also important to be prepared to compromise. While you can – and should – approach your divorce with a realistic goal in mind with regard to parenting time, you should be prepared to consider your spouse’s desires in good faith as well.
DO: Communicate with your spouse (if you are comfortable doing so).
If you and your spouse are on speaking terms, you can talk openly about what you both want for your children in the future. However, when it comes to actually establishing your parenting time arrangement, it will be important for both of you to be represented by legal counsel.
DON’T: Communicate with your spouse in front of your children.
When communicating with your spouse about your divorce, make sure your children are not present. Even if you are having a healthy disagreement, you do not want your children to hear you arguing about parenting time, and you do not want your children to get their hopes up if they overhear something that does not end up coming to fruition.
DO: Encourage your children to express their feelings.
Helping your children express their feelings will be important during and after your divorce. Encourage them to share anything that is on their mind, and take the time to listen intently—without being distracted by your phone, laptop or TV.
DON’T: Ask your children to help you make decisions about your divorce.
Even though your children will be greatly impacted by your divorce, all decisions regarding your divorce should be made between you and your spouse. While you should ask your children about their feelings, you should not ask them to help you make decisions that will impact the outcome of your divorce.
DO: Help your children understand what they can expect in the future.
Once you know what your children can expect going forward, you will want to clearly explain what your divorce means for their day-to-day lives. If they are holding onto hopes of reconciliation, you should also help them understand that your divorce is – and always will be – final.
DON’T: Overburden your children (or yourself) with uncertainty about the future.
Finally, there are a lot of unknowns during the divorce process. Even after your divorce, you may not know exactly what the future will hold. While it is important to acknowledge this uncertainty, it is equally important not to allow this uncertainty to lead to unnecessary stress for you or your children.
Schedule a Confidential Consultation with an Irvine Family Lawyer at Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy
Do you have questions about going through a divorce with children in Irvine? If so, we encourage you to get in touch. To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced Orange County divorce lawyer at Seastrom Tuttle & Murphy, call us at 949-474-0800 or request an appointment online today.