You have reached the painful, difficult decision - or the decision has been made for you by your spouse. Your marriage is ending. You have children. The interests of those children must come first in decisions and negotiations regarding child custody and visitation. Just because the person you married may be a bad husband or wife, does not mean they are also automatically a bad parent. Children, when possible, need both of their parents.
Studies have shown that it is not the divorce itself that causes children to have "issues" and "problems" moving forward with their life, but it is the way the parents handle the divorce and interactions going forward with each other, i.e. getting along with each other for the sake of the children.
There are a number of things that responsible and loving parents can do to minimize the risk of such "issues" and "problems" experienced by children of divorce:
1. Never talk negatively to your children about their Mother or Father.
2. Do not treat your child like a friend and confide in them the detailed reasons for the divorce. EVEN WHEN YOU FEEL JUSTIFIED TO.
3. Assure your children that they were not the cause of the divorce, and that both of their parents still love them (yes, in this instance you could talk for the other parent).
4. Let them know that even though they may be angry at either or both of you, they need to continue to see both parents (possibly in a therapy setting if necessary).
5. If at all possible, let your children see you make important parenting decisions with the other parent. This will make it less likely for children to feel like they can take advantage of one parent or the other.
How does this play out in determining custody and visitation issues? While emotions are at a very high level the months leading up to a divorce filing and the year following the divorce filing, making decisions based upon emotions are NOT best for the children. Rational, informed decisions must be made. Withholding a child from one parent to "play hard ball," to "try to get more support money," or "because I'm hurt," generally results in a detriment to the relationship between you and your child for the long term. Reasonable time spent with the non-custodial parent is important to permit the child to bond with that parent. Again - fight the emotional and behave with the rational. Remember, you may be divorcing your spouse, but your children are not divorcing their mother or father.
When in doubt, think about the best interests of your children - Really. It will help guide you in the right direction. Remember, you are their example. Would you want to have yourself as a parenting role model?
Mediation, if possible, as opposed to "fighting it out in court," can resolve the issues in a divorce proceeding, including, but not limited to, issues of property division, debt division, child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, as well as other issues personal to your situation, without the need to go to court and spend significantly more in attorney's fees and costs to litigate.