I've noted during my years as a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer that many parents with children who are contemplating divorce often avoid filing for divorce around any major holiday.
In truth there is no good time to file for a divorce. It doesn't matter if you live in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire or any other state or country when children are involved.
Any parent who cares about his or her child(ren) will consider the timing of the divorce and the effect it may have on any minor children who still live at home, especially toddlers through early teens who may react with confusion or even blame themselves for the breakdown of the parents.
Certainly it's a good idea to avoid a traumatic event exceptionally close to a child's birthday or a major holiday such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years or Easter. The concern is that the child might associate the traumatic event of a divorce with that particular birthday or holiday event and then remember it and re-live the trauma each year.
It is the sign of a loving parent to consider these types of divorce effects on their children.
Looking back as a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer who went through this contemplation for my own children, I have greater insight than I did back then and it is this that I would like other concerned parents to consider.
While there is no predicting how a child might link up an event, a date or a significant happening and associate it with the divorce, there are logical steps you can take to determine whether to file for divorce around a particular date, holiday or significant event in your child's life.
First, you may wish to pinpoint what events are more likely to be most traumatic for the child(ren) and eliminate their occurrence on or within a few days of birthdays, holidays or events significant for the minor child.
For example, it is best to consider whether your spouse is aware that you will be filing for divorce and whether he or she is willing to be amicable about receiving the divorce papers or whether your spouse does not know and is more likely to traumatized and/or hysterical that you filed for divorce and served him or her with papers.
GAUGING YOUR SPOUSE - WHY IT MATTERS!
The filing of the complaint is actually a formal and ministerial task. If your spouse is aware that you are filing for divorce and cares about your children, then you spouse is much less likely to become a crazed lunatic when the divorce papers are received and thus the date of the actual filing will not be significant or damaging to the children.
The same is true for service of a Rhode Island Summons and Divorce Complaint. Service upon your spouse is a required formality of our due process system and it need not been traumatic. If your spouse is aware of the divorce filing, is treated with respect, and is contacted in advance to make convenient arrangements for him or herto accept the divorce papers then the sense of calm in the family is preserved for the children.
Now, let's consider a different scenario. Let's assume that your spouse does not know the divorce papers are coming and that she is served subtly at the front door of the house while the children are at school.
What if your spouse is surprised? What if your attorney uses common legal terminology in the divorce complaint in order to protect you but your spouse misinterprets it? Imagine that your spouse has a few hours to "imagine the worst". Your spouse gets more and more upset worrying about what is going to happen during the divorce and what will happen after the divorce is final? What if your spouse suddenly believes you must be having an affair?
Imagine that your spouse is now upset, afraid and angry. Dozens of scenarios may be whirling through your spouse's head. There is no one for your spouse to talk to for several hours. Suddenly your children get home from school. Your spouse begins ranting and raving and waiving the papers in front of the children. Here's how much your we're cared about! Divorce was filed on Christmas Eve! Christmas eve!! One of the biggest holidays of the year and that's what we're given. Then I'm served today. Here it is only 10 days from your birthday little Johnny and that's what we get . . . divorce papers!
Suddenly, the circumstances are dramatically different. Your upset spouse, unable to contain the feelings that have built up, has now thrown at your children the fact that you have filed on Christmas Eve. This fact may or may not stick with your children permanently depending upon their age, maturity level, understanding of what divorce means to him or her, and how each child processes the information. In this case, a parent who is out of control emotionally has disregarded the the damage this may do to the children. Taking an educated guess about how your spouse will react makes a big difference on the timing for both the filing date and the date on which your spouse is served.
In truth, when parents are upfront with one another and the service of the documents is handled in a respectful manner, good parents will keep the children out of it and will not create a scene nor will they disclose specific dates to the children. Thus, when you are dealing with reasonable adults who are looking out for the best interests of their children, filing at or around the holiday season should make no difference. The filing of the complaint is a required part of the process.
1. Filing the Complaint is Just Part of the Divorce Process
By itself the filing of the complaint is simply a required part of the process. If a divorce is desired by either of the parties to go their separate ways then a reasonable adult should realize that it is just part of the legal process. and, if the divorce complaint is drafted by a professional who knows (and respects) the possible damages to any minor children, it need not be threatening or hurtful. It just IS!
2. Service of the Papers is Just Another Part of the Divorce Process
Also, Due Process is part of the divorce process and a requirement of virtually every legal proceeding as required by the United States Constitution. Therefore, service of the papers is just a part of the process as well. It is simply a requirement that is being followed because it s required by law. It is nothing more than saying "Spouse, I filed for Divorce. Here are the papers so you will know that it was filed and what they say."
DOES THE QUESTION OF WHEN TO FILE FOR DIVORCE HAVE AN ANSWER?
So, when should you or shouldn't you file for a Rhode Island Divorce? As I've said, divorce is never an enjoyable thing to deal with so there is never truly a good time. Many people just want a simple "pat" answer. Unfortunately it isn't that easy if you truly care about your children and want to eliminate as much harm tothem as possible. The answer actually lies with how well you know your spouse and whether he or she is a reasonable person and cares enough about the children that a scene is not made in front of the children and that adult issues of the divorce are not discussed or forced upon them.
Ultimately, filing for a divorce around the time of the holidays, birthdays or other special events is just as easy on the family as any other time of the year, provided the parents are looking out for their children first and foremost.
REALISTICALLY HOW LONG IS A RHODE ISLAND DIVORCE?
In Rhode Island, the entire divorce process, when amicably worked out as quickly as is legally possible, will take approximately 5 1/2 months. This is from the date the Rhode Island divorce complaint is filed to the date the Final Judgment of Divorce is entered. However, practically speaking it is more realistic to add another three (3) months when the case has assets, debts and/or minor children involved.
Looking at the entire timeframe of a divorce then, you may be looking at 8 1/2 months to realistically complete your divorce with reasonable spouse's involved.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN GAUGING YOUR SPOUSE
Given that duration of time that it takes for the entire process, the questions for consideration truly become these:
What parts of the process , if any, during the Rhode Island divorce process are most likely to trigger my spouse to fly off the handle and unleash his or her emotional baggage on the children?
Will he or she rant and rave to the kids about the filing date? What about the date of service? Will the hearing date on the Summons scare your spouse? If things aren't so amicable could it be the date of the first contested hearing that might push my spouse over the edge? Or would the date the Final Judgment enters be used against me by my spouse with our children?
Knowing your spouse and how he or she would react to the divorce itself is a key factor in determining the timing of the filing, the service, talking to the children, moving out, etc... This is a tough factor to gauge.
Let me use a somewhat descriptive example that occurs in a general fashion all too frequently .
THE STORY OF BILL AND TAUNYA'S DIVORCE
1. Their Background
Bill and Taunya have two young children (ages 8 and 12), a house, about $42,000 in credit card debt and Bill's retirement fund which has accumulated to about $71,000. They have been married for 7 years. Bill and Taunya haven't been getting along so well in the past two years because Taunya does not want to get a job outside the home to help with the family's debts. Taunya has a Bachelor's Degree in Restaurant Management and before they got married Taunya was successfully making $53,000 a year managing a semi-popular restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island.
2. Their Feelings
Bill is tired of working 60 hour weeks and not getting to spend time with his children because they have too much debt to pay each month.
Taunya on the other-hand feels unloved and unappreciated. She reaches out and finds a friend on the internet to talk to. As Taunya talks more and more to her internet friend, she talks less and less with her husband, Bill.
Bill eventually sees himself as just a paycheck each week for her to spend. Taunya feels her contributions as a homemaker are wholly unappreciated. Taunya suggests marriage counseling and Bill agrees but only once Taunya gets a job to help out. Taunya believes that the "job thing" is precisely his problem and the reason they need marriage counseling. Taunya refuses to go to marriage counseling if it means she she has to get a job first. Taunya suggests to Bill that he should go to counseling alone because he is the one with the problem.
Bill can't take it anymore. He is tired, drained, has no friends,has no intimacy with his wife and barely gets to see his children. Bill decides at the beginning of December that he wants a divorce.
3. Love for their Children
Bill and Taunya both love their children so Bill takes a week or so thinking how to talk to Taunya about his decision because he doesn't want to hurt the children. Bill knows how much Taunya loves the children so he figures Taunya will remain calm and help him protect the children from any adverse affects. He decides to talk to Taunya right away so she can start adjusting his mindset.
Bill also talks to a Rhode Island lawyer who tells him that it doesn't matter when he files because he is looking at 5 1/2 to possibly 9 months to resolve the whole divorce. Bill tells Taunya that night that he will be filing for divorce but that he wants to do what's best for her and the kids. Taunya takes it calmly and they talk about the holidays and what they will do. Bill and Taunya agree that Bill and Taunya won't talk to the kids until near the end of January and that Bill will move out of the house by the end of February.
Taunya seems agreeable with all of this yet still sheds a few tears as she looks down the hall toward their children's bedrooms.
4. Filing & Service - The Rhode Island Divorce Process Begins
Bill retains the Rhode Island divorce lawyer. The lawyer files for divorce on Bill's behalf on the day after Christmas. In mid-January Bill arranges for Taunya to be served by a constable while the children are at school. The constable gives Taunya a courtesy call to make sure it is okay to come over. The constable comes over and simply hands the papers to Taunya and wishes her the best of luck in her divorce.
Taunya takes the papers and looks them over. Taunya seems fine with things and throws the papers in her dresser drawer. At the beginning of February Bill and Taunya decide they should talk to the children and let them know their father will be moving out in a few weeks and that they will be getting a divorce. They want the children to have a time to adjust to the idea.
5. Telling the Children about the Divorce
They tell the children about the divorce together. The children are shocked and cry frequently over the next several weeks. Taunya's stress level starts to rise as she sees their children so upset day after day. Taunya tries to reassure their children that everything will be fine and that they will see their father frequently. The children are stressed and worried and begin asking their mother questions daily.
Are we still going to live here?
Where is daddy going to live?
Will we have to move?
Will we be able to call daddy?
Why is daddy leaving?
Did we do something to make daddy leave?
As the children ask more questions that Taunya isn't able to answer without getting upset her stress level rises even higher. Bill tries to pack very subtly and to help Taunya reassure their children. However, as the day gets closer when their father won't be sleeping at their house anymore the children get more and more upset.
By the end of February Bill has moved out. Bill calls the children every day and sees them every weekend because Taunya explains how upset they are, and that they cry and wail all the time because their father is gone. The children just want their father back home. Nothing Taunya does seems to help the children.
6. The Emotional Explosion
Finally, the children come into Taunya's bedroom asking more and more questions and crying. They want their mother to explain it to them. They want to understand what is going on and why. Taunya can not take it anymore, she walks to her dresser and pulls out the papers and waves them in front of their children.
"Listen", Taunya yells at the kids. "I did everything I could. We talked and we waited and we tried to make things easy for you. We tried to give you a good Christmas and everything but you're going to stop crying! Do you hear me? Your father is gone and he's not coming back to us. You may have received all those nice presents at Christmas time, but you know what we really received for Christmas? We got these papers. And do you know what they say? They saying that your father is leaving us, that he wants to move out and that he wants a divorce. That's what the wonderful father you keep crying about did for us! So stop your crying about him because frankly I'VE HAD IT!!!"
7. Severe Damage May be Done
This is where the damage is done and it is certainly not isolated to women. In this example, an example which is unfortunately all too common, Taunya has most likely damaged their children emotionally more than she possibly realizes.
Taunya's inability to deal with the emotional turmoil the children are feeling from a sense of loss of their father and fear of the future have caused her to express herself to the in such a way that she has now attached the wonderful holiday of Christmas to all their feelings of sorrow and pain. It is possible that the children will now be reminded every Christmas that it was the day "Daddy decided he wanted to leave them." Taunya may have also caused the children to believe that Bill did not want to see, or live with his children anymore and that THAT is what divorce means.
Children are resilient, but they are also delicate and they take their cues and build their belief systems when they are young based upon what they are taught and what they learn from those around them, especially their parents. Taunya's own difficulty in coping with the children's pain may create a life-long cycle of pain at Christmas and a feeling of anger and alienation toward their father even if Taunya had not intended it that way.
INDICATORS OF WHEN TO ACT
So WHEN is a good time to file for divorce?
And WHEN is a good time to serve the divorce papers?
AND WHEN is the best time to talk to the children about the situation?
There is no perfect answer except to realize that there is truly no bad time at all to file for divorce.
Why? Because when all is said and done, it is not the filing date, or the service date of the papers that actually determine if it is a good time to begin the divorce process.
The answer lies in how well the parents can work together to prevent harm to their children.
Certainly it is best to avoid talking to minor children about the subject of divorce or a parent moving out of the house either on or close to any major holiday, birthday or event significant to the child. This is because this is the most likely time that children are apt to get upset and relate those feelings to whatever holiday or event may be happening no matterhow well you and your spouse finesse the subject.
The children can be sheltered from the rest of the process and the hurt it may cause if they work together to deal with the issues and keep the children out of adult issues. Divorce and the breakdown of the marital relationship are adult issues!
Ultimately, filing for divorce around the holidays is not a bad idea, nor is timing of the service of process on your spouse, as long as both spouses are prepared to deal with the emotional pain and sorrow the children may feel, as well as their questions, WITHOUT blame and WITHOUT making issues between the adults . . . emotional difficulties that the children are forced to deal with because one or both parents are not in control.
MY RULE OF THUMB
Should you file your divorce around the holidays, a birthday or a child's special event?
Take time and think about your spouse. Do you think he or she can and will protect the children by keeping adult issues between the adults? If so, file your divorce and arrange for your spouse to accept the papers in a comfortable and amicable manner. If not, avoid every holiday, birthday and special event for the children like the plaque regarding the filing date, the service date, the date you talk to the children, the date either spouse moves out of the home, the hearing date for the divorce and the date the Final Judgment of Divorce is entered.