I read an article the other day about parenting children through divorce and it cautioned parents to not beat themselves up over all the pain and suffering that their children would experience throughout their lifetimes. Though, as moms, we all tend to feel like it’s our job to protect our children from all the various unpleasant experiences of life, it’s also through that pain and suffering that children build courage, confidence, and character. After all, isn’t that how it worked for us? Who learns but through suffering, right?
It’s easy to say but not so easy to experience, especially as you’re in the midst of transition. Watching your children deal with the pain of divorce is difficult for any mom, especially when combined with the feelings of guilt—“I was supposed to protect them” and “Couldn’t I have tried harder to make it work?” At least, those are the two I hear the most often.
I’m not a therapist, but, as a divorce and custody attorney who has seen lots and lots of moms go through this exact experience (and being a mom myself), I can tell you that I think the most important thing is to control what you can control, and let go of the rest. If things aren’t working out between you and your child’s father, studies have pretty consistently shown that children are happier when they have happier parents. Though divorce can be traumatic, there’s a lot to be said for how you deal with the transition personally. In this article, the author compares mom to a flight attendant. If there’s turbulence when you’re on a plane, who do you look at? The flight attendant. If the flight attendants are okay, if they continue on with beverage service, you feel pretty okay, too. For your children, you can be that flight attendant by showing them that everything is okay—and will continue to be okay.
One of the things that moms fixate on is the ability to keeping kids in the same school district. Though it isn’t always one of those things that we can control (because, of course, so much is dictated by our ability to find housing in the appropriate school district), in the cases where it is, I encourage it—because there’s no question that some stability is ideal for most kids weathering such a big transition. If you’re hoping that keeping kids in the same school district will be a possibility for you in your case, you’ll want to do a couple things to help ensure that it happens.
1. Call your mortgage broker, and talk about refinancing your current home into your sole name, if you own it.
Refinancing isn’t always possible, but if you own your home and you’ll receive enough income post divorce to qualify for a mortgage on your own, talk to your mortgage broker about your options. Chances are that the mortgage broker will want to see how much child and spousal support you can expect to receive (you may want to consult with an attorney to get an idea about what those figures might look like) in addition to knowing what your actual income is, if any.
Don’t forget to have a discussion about the costs of owning your current home. Don’t just assume a mortgage blindly; make sure to have a full and frank discussion with your mortgage broker, a tax advisor, and/or a financial planner to determine whether purchasing the home is really in your best interests. You’ll want to know whether you’ll have to pay PMI, what the costs for homeowners insurance (and anything additional, like flood insurance, that the property might require), and have a general idea of the annual cost of taxes, maintenance, and upkeep.
2. Call your mortgage broker, and see what kind of budget you could qualify for on your own—and look for houses for sale or rent in the same school district.
Whether you can qualify to purchase a home on your own or whether you’ll just rent something in the meantime, it’s a good idea to talk about your other options. Though you may prefer to stay in the marital residence (again, for the sake of stability and continuity), don’t beat yourself up if that’s no longer an option. It’s pretty common that one party on her own has trouble affording a residence that was formerly supported by the work of two people. If you can’t keep your home, it doesn’t mean you’re SOL, though. Talk to your mortgage broker about any other options, including renting, that might be available to you in the same school district.
Remember: it doesn’t have to be permanent. Just do your best and see what’s out there. Again, make sure you’re also asking the same questions about homeowner’s insurance, taxes, maintenance and upkeep, and other expenses associated with the home. Undertake a full and frank look at your finances to determine whether it’s something you really can (or can’t) afford.
3. Talk to a school official about the possibility of filing an “out of zone” request that would allow your child to stay in the same school district. Ask what specific reasons qualify a child to stay in a school that is technically out of zone.
Depending on the school district, some are more or less accommodating when it comes to requests to keep kids in a school district that is technically out of zone. Talk to a principal or other school official (preferably before you make any specific arrangements) to see what would qualify you to stay in the school out of zone, and see what choices that leaves open to you. I’ve heard of people receiving out of zone approval for day care in a particular city, or in order to follow an IEP entered at a previous school. I’ve also heard of people using their business addresses in order to get a child in school in a particular area. Talk to an official at your school and see what options are available to you.
A caveat: don’t sign something saying that you’re homeless in order to stay in your school district. Even if you go to live with family (and therefore, technically, you don’t have a home of your own), homelessness is risky when it comes to custody cases and you don’t want ANY documents admitted in court that suggest you might not have a home.
Keeping kids in the same school district is a noble goal and one that, if you can afford to accomplish it, will likely diminish the stress of the transition of the separation and divorce on your children. For more information, to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed and experienced custody attorneys, or to get more information about Custody Bootcamp for Moms , our seminar designed to help teach Virginia moms how to represent themselves in custody cases, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.