Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, from the couple who is splitting up to the children who have to adjust to splitting their time between two homes. If you and your spouse have decided to handle your divorce through mediation, this avoids a potentially bitter and contentious court battle, which can be painful for children to witness. It is important for parents to understand that there are a number of factors to consider when mediating child custody issues involving teenagers. They have different needs compared to younger children, which is important to keep in mind when negotiating child custody arrangements. A dedicated divorce lawyer can walk you through the mediation process and ensure that your children’s best interests are protected.
What Mediation Tips Should Parents of Teenagers Consider?
Parents of teenagers know that the teen years have unique challenges compared to the other stages of childhood. Teens are more independent and opinionated compared to younger children The following are tips for parents who are going through the mediation process while raising teenage children:
- Maintain consistency: Teens are extremely busy with school, activities, sports, and part-time jobs. It is very important that they are able to maintain their schedules, as any disruption can cause unnecessary stress. Both parents must work together to keep the child’s schedule as consistent and predictable as possible.
- Avoid conflict during transfers. While interacting with one another after a divorce can be unpleasant, make every effort to put those feelings aside when you are dropping off or picking up the children. Make sure that the transfers happen on time, and at the agreed-upon location. As tempting as it may be to criticize your ex-spouse for being late, or for making a last-minute schedule change to the custody agreement, the last thing your child needs is to see the two of you arguing at every exchange. If you and your ex-spouse are unable to handle the transfer without conflict, consider dropping the children off at a family member’s home. Do not bring a new romantic interest to the drop-off or pick-up unless the relationship is serious and you have talked about it with your ex-spouse and the children.
- Consider counseling. Teenagers often struggle with mental health issues after their parents split up. They often blame themselves for the split, or feel as though they are stuck in the middle of their parents’ problems and feel pressure to take sides. If your teenager develops any behavior changes, including exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, becoming withdrawn, engaging in risky behavior, or his or her grades start to slip, a counselor or therapist can provide effective tools that will help him or her get through the divorce.
- Respect the boundaries. While it is very important that your child knows that he or she can come to you, and talk about how he or she is struggling with the divorce, it is also important to remember that you are the parent, not your child’s friend. Respect those boundaries, and provide the structure and discipline your children need to become independent adults. Make sure that you and your ex-spouse are on the same page, and approach boundaries in the same way. If your child is getting mixed messages from both of you, it can cause problems and complicate the process for your child.
How Do I Discuss the Divorce with My Teenage Children?
Divorce can have a particularly negative impact on children if parents are not open and honest about why they are divorcing, and how their family is going to change. While it is natural for parents to want to protect their children and avoid difficult and painful conversations, it will help them understand and accept the changes that are going to happen. The following are some helpful tips that parents can keep in mind when discussing the divorce with the children:
- Tell the truth. Your children are going to have questions about why you are splitting up. Answer those questions honestly, but consider what information the child is capable of understanding based on his or her age and level of maturity. Even if your intentions are good, lying or keeping information from your child will backfire if your child discovers that you lied. Find a way to be truthful while keeping the talk age-appropriate.
- Have an open discussion about the divorce. Just because the children are not asking questions does not mean that they are not wondering what happened or how it is going to impact them. Take the initiative and discuss what happened, how you feel about it, and what the next steps are. Avoid placing blame or fighting with your spouse. Try to remain calm while sharing important facts, feelings, and information about the divorce.
- Do not rely on your child for emotional comfort. There is a big difference between having open, honest conversations with your children and unloading all of your negative feelings about the divorce onto your child. Even if you have a close relationship with your teenage child, do not use your child as an emotional confidant. That is what friends, other adult family members, or therapists are for. Your children are already dealing with the impact that the divorce has had on them. Do not make them bear your burden as well.
- Explain that the divorce is not their fault. It is very common for children to feel that they are somehow responsible for their parent’s failed marriage. In order to effectively explain the reason for your divorce to your children, you must have a clear understanding of it yourself. Oftentimes, this takes a lot of soul-searching and counseling. However, regardless of the reason, it is imperative that you make it very clear to the children that they are in no way responsible for the marriage coming to an end.
What Are Some of the Common Causes of Divorce?
No one enters into a marriage thinking they are going to get divorced. However, with approximately 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, it is quite common. There are many reasons why couples divorce, including the following:
- Different sets of values: If you have a different set of values or beliefs than your spouse, it can be difficult to make a marriage work. One of the most common examples of this spouses from different religious backgrounds. This can be particularly problematic when you have children and you cannot agree about how to raise them.
- Financial issues: Money problems are another common cause of divorce. The loss of a job, and the mounting bills is a major source of stress, which can cause problems in a marriage.
- Immaturity: When couples get married at a young age, it is common for one person to grow more intellectually or emotionally, while the other stays the same as the day they were married. The person who has grown and evolved may feel trapped in a dead-end relationship.
- Infidelity: Some marriages end because one of the partners is unfaithful. While this is devastating for the person who is left behind, both parents must make an effort to set their differences aside when they are with the children. Too often, children are caught in the middle and made to feel as though they must choose sides in an issue that has nothing to do with them.
- Mental illness: Serious mental illnesses like bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or severe depression can be very difficult to manage. In some cases, the health spouse may seek a more stable life, particularly if the mental illness causes the spouse to become dangerous, or unable to care for the children.
- Personality difference: They say opposites attract, however, when a couple has completely different personalities, it can be difficult to stand the test of time.
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse: There is never an excuse for abuse of any kind. Victims of abuse need to get out of the marriage if their safety, or their children’s safety is being compromised.
- Substance abuse: Unfortunately, this is a common problem that can destroy marriages and wreak havoc on families. If the addiction is not treated, the drinking or drug abuse can cause behavior changes, loss of employment and physical illness that can lead to divorce.
Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Navigate the Mediation Process
If you are going through the mediation process and you have teenage children, our dedicated Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help you navigate every step of the mediation process and ensure that your children’s best interests are protected at all times. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. From our offices in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.