What Should I Know If I Have Younger Children and Getting Divorced in MA?

Divorcing when you have kids presents unique challenges. The most obvious of those challenges is, as a parent, having the responsibility of seeing not only yourself through the divorce process but your children as well. This is no easy feat, especially when children are young.

Let’s face it, divorce is difficult to wrap your head around as an adult. Now picture how difficult it must be for children, especially young ones, whose world, the only one they’ve known, is changing. With this in mind, if you are a parent who is divorcing, here are a few issues to consider.

Child-Parent Bonding

The importance of child-parent bonding, especially in the early years, is well established. According to a 2016 article by Robert Winston and Rebecca Chicot, children need to develop a solid initial bond to grow up to be happy, self-sufficient, and resilient adults.

When divorcing, it is, therefore, important for both parents to put aside their differences, barring domestic or child abuse, and allow for children, particularly those who are young, to have ample time to bond with both of their parents. The amount of time can vary according to children’s ages.

Parenting Time Duration

For infants, shorter, more frequent interactions with the non-custodial parent are preferred because of the infant’s dependence on the primary caregiver. When infants are separated from their parents for too long a time, infants can experience adverse effects. According to findings published by the ABA in a paper titled “Trauma Caused by Separation of Children from Parents,” the risk of emotional and developmental harm to a child increases as the child’s age decreases and the duration of uncertainty and separation from the primary caregiver extends.

When considering parenting time schedules, it is, therefore, important to remember that, in most situations, namely those not characterized by domestic violence or abuse, it is preferable for children to spend time with both of their parents. It is also crucial to consider children’s ages regarding parenting time length.

Courts often handle parenting time with infants by arranging for more frequent visits but for shorter periods. This is because it is generally difficult for infants to be away from the primary care parent for long stretches.

A Massachusetts family law attorney who takes a family-centered approach will understand this reality. Instead of creating conflict, they will work tirelessly to create a parenting plan that recognizes the vital role co-parenting plays in children’s development, prioritizing it in negotiations.

Co-Parenting Relationship

Your co-parenting relationship will significantly impact children’s psychological and emotional development. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, divorce can elicit various responses in young children. These responses can include heightened aggression and uncooperativeness or a tendency to withdraw.

The Academy goes on to state that older children often experience profound feelings of sadness and a sense of loss. This emotional turmoil can manifest in academic difficulties, as well as an increased likelihood of exhibiting behavioral issues.

Though lacking the comprehension of older children, infants, too, can feel the effects of divorce. A 2015 article published in the Journal of Infant Behavior and Development describes how infants whose parents reported high levels of conflict demonstrated more difficulty regulating their emotions.

What these studies, and countless others like them, demonstrate is how critical it is to maintain an amicable co-parenting relationship with your ex. As a rule of thumb, if you abide by the following three tips, you can significantly improve your co-parenting relationship.

  1. Resolve, or at least process, the serious issues that led to your divorce. You might think, “Well, we’re getting divorced, so there’s no need for that.” Wrong. You have a child or children that you will have to co-parent with your ex for years to come, so you need to do the work to get past those issues and learn to function well together as parents.
  2. Never put children in the middle. Don’t have a child asking the other parent questions about issues you must resolve yourselves. Instead, talk to the other parent or message them.
  3. Focus on communication. In general, again, apart from situations where this is domestic abuse or child abuse, the more you communicate with your ex amicably, the better co-parenting relationship you will have and the better off your children will be.


Don’t underestimate the importance of healthy communication practices. As I just stated, the more you communicate with each other, the better off your children will be. Of course, that is sometimes easier said than done, especially if you are going through a high-conflict divorce.

If your relationship with the other parent continues to prove contentious, there are ways to facilitate communication. They are to:

  1. Refrain from adding fuel to the fire. Instead, take the high road, remembering that most arguments aren’t worth having when you look back on them.
  2. Keep conflicts away from children. If a conversation escalates into an argument and your children are around, walk away.
  3. Consider using an app to communicate, such as AppClose or Our Family Wizard. With a high-conflict ex, it is often better to communicate digitally, at a distance, where there is also a written record.

Parenting Plan

Absent an emergency, do not separate unless you are confident the parenting plan that will result is one you will be comfortable with long-term. This detail is a critical one as a court will consider your arrangement with your ex since the split when deciding parenting time disputes.

You can create what is known as a temporary parenting plan. A temporary parenting plan sets the stage for continuity and stability for the children while allowing you the flexibility to get the kinks out. However, before diving into a parenting plan with your ex, talk to an experienced Massachusetts divorce attorney to figure out a suitable plan for your specific circumstances.

If you dive in without counsel and get this aspect of your divorce wrong, you could create a bad precedent. One that can inevitably hurt you or your ex financially or in parenting time.

Child Support

Child support will depend on the parenting arrangement, the parties’ gross incomes, health insurance, daycare expenses, and other existing support obligations, among other factors. Therefore, you may have to pay child support even with joint custody.

For example, a 50/50 child custody arrangement may still require a child support payment. When parenting time is equal or near equal between parents (50/50), the courts use what they refer to as a “cross-guidelines” calculation for child support.

In Massachusetts, child support is calculated by determining the calculation first for one parent as the primary caretaker and then with the other parent as the primary caretaker. You next subtract the smaller number from the larger number. The difference reflects the presumptive child support amount the higher-earning parent will pay to the other parent. A child support calculator will do this math automatically when the option for shared physical custody is chosen.

Another scenario is 2/3 child custody. In this situation, where one parent has the child approximately 66% of the time and the other 33%, the parenting time breakdown typically results in a “full guidelines” child support amount.

Parenting time is usually granted to the “non-custodial” parent, who does not have physical custody of the child. Parenting time schedules vary depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. Factors a court will consider include:

  1. The parents’ work schedules.
  2. The distance the parents live from each other.
  3. Which parent is the primary caretaker
  4. Where the children attend school.
  5. The children’s activities.

Keep in mind that the court has one overarching goal. That goal is to strike a balance between continuity/routine for the children and maintaining a healthy relationship with each parent.

Find a Massachusetts divorce attorney.

No divorce is without its complications. Unfortunately, when there are children involved, tensions can escalate fast. When they do, everyone — you, your ex, and your children — will be worse off for it.

At Farias Family Law, our Massachusetts team of divorce attorneys understands how emotionally charged it can be to separate when you have children, especially young children. Fortunately, our divorce lawyers have extensive experience drafting parenting plans, negotiating custody arrangements, and creating parenting schedules and can help with yours.

We recognize that every family, and, therefore, every divorce, is unique and are here to listen and help you and your family reach a settlement. Contact us today.

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