Minimizing the Impact of Visitation on Children During and After Divorce

As a family law attorney in the Houston metropolitan area, potential clients, clients, friends and family regularly ask me what is a key element in a divorce that affects children.  I firmly believe it is the feeling of continuity between homes when children begin the process of shuttling between two residences.  Often parents separate months prior to the divorce proceedings, or shortly after the initial pleadings are filed in court. All of a sudden, the daily routine for children is shaken up completely; there is an immediate sense of loss of the non-custodial parent no longer being “at home”, followed by a brand new place of residence which is completely unfamiliar and anxiety provoking.

Whether the parents work out a customized visitation schedule, follow a standard possession order or an expanded possession schedule, easing the transition between homes is critical.  I often suggest to clients that if possible, children should have a spare set of toiletries, overnight clothing, and clothes they can keep at the non-custodial parent’s home on a permanent basis.  This minimizes the amount of packing the children do between visits.  If possible, it is ideal for children to just take backpacks with homework, a cell phone if the child is old enough, and maybe a laptop.  This way, the disruption of going between two homes week in and week out is smooth, and children feel at home in both residences.  With children under the age of four, making sure the non-custodial parent has his/her own crib, toddler bed, diaper bag, bottles and all other supplies for extremely young children is very helpful.

The non-custodial parent should help the children personalize their space in the new residence, whether it is an apartment, a freestanding home, a shared bedroom with potential step-siblings, or even a corner in the house.  It does not need to cost any money.  If the divorcing couple can co-parent and allow the children to bring over items from the custodial parent’s home (such as bulletin boards, posters, toys or small rugs), it can solve the problem.  The end goal is for both parents to foster a sense of home, warmth, and comfort at both residences.

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