Unhappily married people with children will often contemplate if there is a “correct” age their children should be when they decide to get divorced. A lot of parents will wait until their child is older, or even grown, prior to obtaining a divorce because they feel that it will be easier. While divorcing with adult children does get rid of the component of potentially co-parenting with an ex-spouse, it is no easier for the children. When parents go through a divorce, it is hard for all children, even adult children. Regardless of age, having to navigate family events and milestones, holidays and celebrations with parents who are no longer married can be painful and difficult. This is particularly true when the divorce was less than amicable.
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Waiting Until Your Child is Older – or the ‘Right’ Age
There is no ‘right’ age for parents to divorce when they have children, but there are specific things to consider depending upon the ages of your children.
Divorce with Infants and Babies
Co-parenting an infant or a baby with an ex can be anxiety-provoking, especially for first-time parents. Infants and babies thrive with structure and schedules. They cannot articulate to their parents what their wants and needs are, other than to cry. Some mothers will choose to breastfeed, which can make parenting time difficult, or the breastfeeding can be inadvertently cut short if a Judge orders the parents to also bottle feed so as to effectuate parenting time. Different households are run in different ways, and the back and forth with a baby can be disruptive for naps, feedings, and the like. Additionally, it can be difficult to not have a helping hand living in your household when raising an infant or a baby. Additionally, if one parent has been the primary caretaker of the infant for some time and the other parent waits to try and obtain parenting time, the Court may hesitate to give a liberal and frequent parenting time schedule including overnights to the parent who has not had such a strong relationship.
One positive about separating when children are this young is that babies and infants do not know any different than having two separate households and two separate parents, so the separation of the parents will always feel “normal” to the child. If divorcing or separating makes both parents happier, they will know two happy, separate parents.
Divorce and School-Age Children
Co-parenting school-age children can be harder in some ways than co-parenting a toddler or baby. If the children are old enough to truly understand their parent’s divorce or separation, they will likely feel sad and mourn the loss of having both parents around 24/7, which is something both parents will need to work with the children on. They may need to talk to a therapist or join a peer group for other divorced children through their school to help them adjust. They may refuse to go to parenting time with one parent and may be used to “their house”, making it challenging for them to go back and forth between the parents’ separate households. Depending on how young the child is, the parents will need to be vigilant about making sure their school work is completed and that they have everything they need at each house for their activities. They go through clothing quickly and need new items such as winter coats, backpacks, school clothes, and the like, every year, and then they need to make sure they are keeping track of everything between two households.
There is a lot of communication between parents of young children, even if they don’t have joint custody or joint allocation of parental responsibilities (decision making). There are sporting events, school events, school activities, parent-teacher conferences, and many other activities or events where both parents will be present, sometimes with new significant others, or with in-laws that the other party doesn’t care for. However, again, staying in an unhappy marriage means setting an example of unhappiness for these children, which they also will observe and internalize. The balance and weight between the good and the bad is up to personal discretion.
Divorce and Teenagers
Parenting teenagers is HARD no matter if you are married or not. The best-case scenario with a teenager is that the divorcing or separating parents communicate well and stay on the same page regarding curfews, cell phone usage, driving, etc. That way neither parent is the “cool parent” and the teenager is less inclined to gravitate towards wanting to be in one household due to looser rules. One consideration when divorcing with teenagers is that often times teenagers don’t really care to spend time with their parents, whether they are divorced, separated or together. They often want to spend time with their friends. That may mean that if you have a parenting time schedule, the teenager will often ask to deviate from it. Or, that you may end up seeing your teenager just to drive them from point A to point B and before bed at night. It is harder to have voluntary, quality parenting time with a teenager, and that is no easier if you are divorced than if you are married. The good news about teenagers, though, is they can (usually) credibly articulate to you any issues that occur during parenting time or any concerns that they have, so the worry of safety significantly diminishes with older children.
Get the information you need for child custody with our free resource – Illinois Child Custody Playbook.
Timing and Divorcing with Children
These are just some of the thoughts one must consider when divorcing with children. The truth of the matter is that being able to choose what age your children are when divorcing is a rare situation. Usually, a situation becomes unmanageable and stressful, or the other parent will file, or there are factors outside of your control that lead to a divorce. There is never a “good” time to get divorced. There are certain things that can be easier with kids when they are of a certain age, but generally speaking, the divorce is hard, regardless. The only thing that matters is if your children are happier in the end, and most children are happier when their parents are happier.