Your marriage is ending, and you are a parent. In the midst of upheaval and strong feelings, you have to make complex and critically important choices. Where to live? How to keep finances manageable? If and how to use lawyers? How to divide parenting time and responsibilities?
No matter how frantic or devastated you feel, take the time you need to make good decisions now. Fairly or not, if disputes arise later, judges may look at the choices you make in the first year post-separation as a basis for the future. So you’d better be making wise decisions!
Here are 7 steps, illustrated by my own example from when my then-husband John and I were separating.
1. Recognize when a big decision presents itself. Flag it in your mind.
John and I decided to co-parent our 5- and 8-year-old sons. That was the only given; we had to figure out everything else. I knew that I had to decide where to live, but didn’t think about it as one distinct question—it was just part of the stressful blizzard swirling in my head.
2. State it in a sentence; write it down and look at it.
I didn’t do that; it never occurred to me. If I had, I would have written:
Should one of us stay in the house, or sell it and both move?
3. Consider what you know about the decision and your options. What are some facts?
Some of my thoughts were:
Our house, while a comfortable size, had a substantial mortgage and high taxes.
Selling this house and buying smaller homes in a nearby area would be much easier financially for both me and John.
The boys had no memory of living anywhere else.
4. What feelings do you have about it?
The house was full of my painful memories of our strained marriage. I couldn’t wait to escape it. A different neighborhood, while unknown, felt like the chance for a fresh start.
I liked the neighborhood and would be sorry to leave it; the boys liked it, too.
5. What assumptions are you making?
People kept telling me that kids are resilient. The boys would make new friends in a new school.
6. How may your family history be influencing you?
I never considered this question. Later, I remembered that my parents had moved five times over my growing-up period. My siblings and I didn’t like it, but we survived.
7. Talk it over with at least one person with a detached view.
Go over each point, and ask them to test what you may be missing, or overstating. If you are lacking information, get it before finalizing your decision.
I didn’t discuss the decision of where to live with anyone except John; I simply figured out that I wanted us to sell the house and move to a less expensive area.
What happened in the end? John was determined that one of us would stay in the house. I was appalled at the prospect of keeping it, but he wasn’t to be budged. He stayed in the house and I rented a nearby apartment for several years until I found a house a block away.
How wise was my decision? I am very glad, now, that John’s choice prevailed.
It turned out that keeping our family house worked very well for the boys. I underestimated the value to them of the social stability during family upheaval; my assumption of their resilience was true, but not the complete picture. I also didn’t foresee the financial support my parents offered me.
Because my own family had moved periodically, relocating seemed to me a normal choice, but that didn’t mean it was best for our sons right then. I was a smart, responsible, loving mother, making the best choices I could, yet my assumptions and painful feelings drove my decision-making. I couldn’t see the whole picture clearly.
You can do better.
Please understand: the choice of retaining the family home may not be best for anyone else. This is simply an example of an important decision. Each of us has a different set of circumstances. What I am saying is that following these generic steps will strengthen your decision-making.
Here they are again. To make wise decisions:
- Recognize when a big decision presents itself. Flag it in your mind.
- State it in a sentence; write it down and look at it.
- Consider what you know about the decision and your options. What are some facts?
- What feelings do you have about it?
- What assumptions are you making?
- How may your family history be influencing you?
- Talk it over with at least one person with a detached view. Go over each point, and ask them to test what you may be missing, or overstating. If you are lacking information, get it before finalizing your decision.
Don’t be rushed. Taking time to make wise decisions will ease the transitions for your children and lay the foundations for a better future.
Co-Parenting 101 by Philyaw and Thomas
The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family by Bonnell and Little
Mom’s House, Dad’s House by Ricci