How to Have a 'Good' Divorce
Parting ways and dissolving a marriage can be one of the biggest obstacles—not only in the lives of the divorcing parents, but for the children affected as well. From dividing up assets, to determining custody, re-entering the workforce and learning to co-parent, there are many hills to climb and everyone needs to get to the top.
By Dwain Hebda
In the nearly 50 years that Little Rock attorney Judson Kidd has been in practice, he's seen a little bit of everything in the divorce arena, including those rarest of outcomes—a happy divorce.
"It doesn’t happen a lot, but yeah," said Kidd, partner with Dodds, Kidd, Ryan & Rowan. "'Happy' may be a little bit over the top, but I see folks go through a divorce without coming out of it hating each other [and] the easier you can make the split, the better the kids are going to do."
On the surface, divorce is pretty straightforward—dissolve a marriage and divide assets—but anyone who has ever been through it knows it’s much more complicated than that, particularly when emotions take over.
"Some [clients] come in with an attitude that I want to do this, I want to take him for everything he’s got, I want to embarrass him, I want to file on our anniversary," Kidd said. "I explain to them, you’re going to be dealing with your ex-spouse as long as your kids are alive. Divorce is not the end of the road; you’ve still got parenting decisions to make together."
For this reason, Kidd encourages clients to continue to communicate throughout the process. The fact that you don't like your soon-to-be ex is all the more reason to heed this advice.
"I know some young lawyers, and even some older ones, tell their clients, ‘Never talk to your spouse during litigation during a divorce.’ I totally disagree with that," he said. "They’ve got to learn to communicate at some point."
"If you take the position we’re only going to talk through lawyers all it does is delay the process, make it twice as expensive, alienate the parties and puts a communication barrier between them that makes the whole process that much tougher."
Sidney Stewart, attorney with Taylor Law Firm of Little Rock, said some of the biggest hurdles dealing with divorce come after the order is finalized, such as re-entering the workplace.
"From a financial aspect, the majority of the time it is the woman who struggles to get back on her feet," she said. "Often, women have put their careers on hold to stay home and raise their children. This puts them at a severe disadvantage when trying to reenter the workforce after being out of it for so many years."
"The good news is, these types of women typically qualify for some form of spousal support to help them financially until they can get back in the workforce and build their career."
This ongoing financial support is often how animosity lingers after a divorce, but Stewart said there are many misconceptions about how child support works.
"I think there are some unfair and unfounded fears that child support will unreasonably burden the noncustodial parent," she said. "Many people believe that they will be punished with more child support because of actions during the marriage, such as infidelity. I think it is important for parents going through a divorce to know that child support is set by the Arkansas Child Support Guidelines."
"It is true judges can award different amounts, but the Order must explicitly explain why that judge is deviating from the child support chart."
Of course, the biggest consideration in any divorce is not only how children are provided for, but how well they process what's happening between their parents.
"Divorce takes away their normalcy," said Katie Walker, licensed clinical social worker with Chenal Family Therapy. "It takes away foundation, it takes away consistency and it just completely throws off what their normalization is of the family."
Walker said people don't stay married "for the kids" anymore; in fact, the thinking nowadays is divorce is the means by which children gain healthier parents. But that doesn't absolve adults from appreciating the enormous toll and potential negative effect the situation holds for their children.
"Depending on what type of divorce it is and how well the parents communicate, [divorce] can be as significant as a death [to a child]. I mean, it can be that bad," Walker said. "With a death, you actually have time to grieve and move on. Divorce is in a consistent state of grief until the family realizes how to effectively do it, which can be years."
Put the Kids First
Divorce is no fun for anyone, but it's especially hard on kids. Here are some cardinal rules for helping them through it, provided by Katie Walker of Chenal Family Therapy.
Kids Aren't Trophies
Don't treat custody as a competition for children's love, or used it to "punish" the other side. You're only taking the strife of the marriage and prolonging it post-divorce.
Learn to Co-parent
This fast-growing new trend in family counseling develops specific skills and new ways to communicate with your ex on matters of great importance to your child's development.
Watch the Nonverbals
It's long been established to not bad-mouth your ex in front of the kids, but what are your body language or facial expressions saying? Kids "hear" that eyeroll as clearly as the words coming out of your mouth.
Keep to the Plan
If it's your weekend, don't cancel. If the agreed upon rules include eight o'clock bedtime, stick to it. Consistency is the key ingredient for happier, better adjusted children.
Let Kids Process Emotions
Many kids go through a “honeymoon" phase right after divorce, but don't be fooled. Even in the best, most amicable of splits, kids will mourn the loss of the family unit. Anger, depression or acting out are not uncommon, so pay attention to help them sort through their feelings.