Should I stay in my marriage for the children?

Couples whose marriages are on the rocks are often plagued with guilt about what a divorce would do to the children. They wonder, “Should I stay in this marriage for their sake?” I’ve heard it so many times. Moms in my office, agonizing over what the future will bring for their children, and wondering about whether the choices they’re making will negatively impact it.

The truth is that there’s no easy answer. Every marriage and every child is different, and you have to make the best decision you can with the information that you have. I’ve heard all sorts of things, from “your children will benefit if you’re happier,” to “the children will lose their only remaining sense of security if you divorce.”

If you and your husband are constantly fighting, you are already impacting the children. You’ll have to do some soul searching to determine whether your marriage is salvageable, or whether you’re going to have to cut your losses and divorce. Regardless of what you choose, your decision will have a tremendous impact on your children.

If you can’t save your marriage, remember to think of your children throughout the divorce process. We often see parents who view the divorce as their opportunity to go into full battle mode. It’s not just after the divorce that you’ll need to start picking up the pieces. As soon as you and your husband decide to separate, you’ll have to start thinking very carefully about the choices you’re making and how they’ll impact your children.

Many women with children choose to negotiate a separation agreement, because it feels far less adversarial to come to an agreement rather than battle it out in court. You will still have your disagreements, but it’s easier to deal with them if your attorneys are revising drafts of an agreement and sending it back and forth rather than having to give testimony to the judge about why you deserve, for example, custody of the children and why your husband does not. As you can imagine, just having to go to court and sit at opposite tables while your attorneys argue over who is the better spouse and better parent can be incredibly damaging to an already tumultuous relationship.

Some women choose to go one step further, and decide to work with their husbands collaboratively. In a collaborative divorce, you and your husband retain collaboratively trained attorneys, and agree not to go to court. In fact, if you do decide to go to court later, you’ll have to hire different attorneys! You also each get your own divorce coach to help you through the transition, and you share a child and a financial specialist, whose job it is to help the two of you reach a decision about what is best for your unique family.

Remember that your concerns for your children should extend to the divorce process as much as what you’ll do to help them heal afterwards. It’s often a good idea to involve a therapist for the children as early as possible, so that they have an outlet to deal productively with their experiences. Remember that you have a great deal of control over their present and future happiness. It is your responsibility to take it seriously by carefully weighing your choices and making the choices that, in your best judgment, support your children’s best interests.

Also remember that if your marriage is abusive, you should never, ever stay for the sake of the children.

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