divorced parentsSo, you walk out of the courthouse at the conclusion of your divorce case.

Your marriage is over, ended by a District Judge moments ago.  You and your ex have joint custody of your kids, Johnnie and Susie.  Your lawyer shakes your hand, wishes you well and ambles out of your life.  And you think – where the heck is the manual that tells me what to do as a divorced mom or dad?

First of all, there is no manual (but you knew that, right?).  You will get a lot of advice from well-meaning friends, family members and others, based on their divorces or what they read or heard about someone else’s divorce.  Most of that advice will be of little use to you, and some of it can be downright harmful.  Ignore it because, secondly, I’m going to tell you some of what you need to know.

Here goes –

Don’t take that divorce decree home and file it away.  You need to study the custody part of it, which deals with your kids.  And when I say “study,” I mean study.  Read it again, and again, and some more.  Treat it like a textbook in a course you just have to get an A in. Get to the point you can quote it, like the Bible or Shakespeare because with understanding comes wisdom.

Next, keep track of when your ex has the kids.  Don’t make a big production of it, but note the day/time he/she picks up and returns them, and anything special or out of the ordinary.  Be careful, though, because if there’s subsequent litigation then your calendar or diary will be discoverable by the other side.

Don’t obsess about the little details.

If your former wife is due to pick up the kids at your house at 6:00 p.m., and its 6:40 before she shows up, don’t make a big deal out of it.  Your Judge probably won’t, and if you do then it’s just going to increase the stress level between you and your ex, which will not be helpful to your kids.

And while we’re at it, when you communicate with the ex, remember BFP – brief, factual and (for real) polite.  Avoid long harangues which rehash old marital history and are replete with opinions as to your ex’s bad character and lack of socially redeeming value.  Always use BFP.  You vary from it at your peril.

Don’t talk to outsiders about your divorce or your ex.  It’s none of their business but they will love to hear your gossip, and they’ll repeat it (less and less accurately as time goes on) over and over and over…  Remember, loose lips sink ships.

When it comes to Johnnie and Susie, you can’t send too much information to their parent – pictures (both school pics and ones you take), cards, funny things the kids say or do, school trips, doctor appointments, etc.  Basically, anything and everything about the kids and what they’re doing should be communicated to your former spouse.  Only takes a few minutes and can create a lot of goodwill (or get you some serious brownie points with your judge if you have to go back to court later on).

Avoid knee-jerk, emotionally based reactions.

Don’t let your ex provoke you into a fit of pique.  This can be a hard one, but it’s one of the more important points I will share with you.  No matter how much of a jerk your ex may be, don’t give in to your anger and snap back.  Won’t help the situation or your kids nor will it look very good if you have to go back to court.  You’re almost always ahead of the game if you turn the other cheek.

Do what you’re ordered to do.  Pay your support in full and on time.  Be punctual for visitation.  Reimburse your share of medical expenses when your order says to do it.  Set a good example for your kids – doesn’t matter if your ex is late.  You shouldn’t be.  Don’t let your behavior be determined by your ex.  You are better than that, and you have young kids watching you.

It’s OK to have empathy for your ex.

It’s neither illegal nor immoral.  We all get in bad places from time to time – depression, anger, anxiety, and sadness.  We get fired or maybe don’t get the big promotion we hoped for.  Our doc gives us a bad report.  Our transmission goes up in smoke just when we have $25.00 in savings and our credit card is maxed out.  That kind of stuff happens to your ex, too.  Be empathetic.  Offer to help, or at least to listen.  Set a good example for your kids.  Their parent’s mood affects them, and you don’t want them to be hurting, do you?

And, lastly, use common sense.  If it feels wrong to do something then don’t do it.  Most of us know the right thing to do, we just choose to act differently.  Look at it from your children’s point of view – if they were in your spot and asked you what to do, what would you tell them?  Choose to be right, and do good.  It will pay big dividends.

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