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Studies have shown that when undergoing life changes, the more control people have over a transition, the more successfully they navigate it.
Divorce, naturally, is one of the largest and most disruptive changes that any of us can go through. That's not to say it's uniformly terrible: often, divorce results in a huge reduction of tension and fighting in the household, allowing families to move forward more peacefully. But it necessarily results in upheaval: the occupants of the household change, finances are affected, and children may have to leave the only home they've ever known, perhaps needing to transfer to a different school as a result.
Minnesota custody law has recently been updated to better reflect the needs of children in the custody process. What does it say about the impact of these major life changes?
Minnesota law requires courts to consider what is in the “best interests” of a child when deciding custody. One of the factors the statute identifies is: “the effect on the child's well-being and development of changes to home, school, and community.” Prior to revision, this factor read, “the child's adjustment to home, school, and community.” The language is similar, but not identical. What has changed is the acknowledgement that these home, school and community changes are likely to have an impact on a child's well-being, and that this must be taken into account when making custody decisions.
How these major changes affect a child will depend in part upon his or her age, temperament, and any special needs. Remember, too, that while divorce may make life feel out-of-control for parents, it has an even more profound effect on children, who have literally no control over the decision or the process.
Therefore, if you anticipate, or are in the middle of, a custody dispute, it's worth considering which custody arrangements are likely to cause as little disruption as possible for your children. It's not always evident how changes are affecting a child's well being and adjustment, but things like slipping grades, changes in sleep patterns, increased anxiety, or developmental regression may be signs a child is struggling.
You can't change the fact that your divorce will cause some upheaval in your child's life. What you can do is make decisions in your divorce through the lens of how those choices are likely to affect your child's well-being and development. Doing so will not only benefit your child, but it will help your judge to see that you are a parent who puts your child's needs first, and make custody decisions accordingly.
Interested in learning more about Minnesota's “best interests factors” and about the impact of divorce on kids? Check out these articles: