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'90S FAMILY

When Marriage Results in a Split Decision, Keep It Friendly

Relationships: Divorce is especially hard on children. But there are ways to lessen the hurt.

August 11, 1996

Visitation is one of the most difficult issues our court system has to address in divorce. Recent court decisions have highlighted the issue, ranging from the brief jailing of a 12-year-old Illinois girl for refusing to visit her father to recent decisions in California and New York making it easier for a custodial parent to relocate.

Yet the highly publicized decisions and shifts in law should not obscure the fact that children need both parents in their lives, according to divorce and matrimonial lawyers.

"Be sure your children have ample time with both parents; they need it and the courts should be a last resort to assure it," says Sandra Murphy, president of the 1,500-member American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The following are the academy's suggestions.

* Voluntary agreement between the spouses on visitation issues work far better than court-imposed ones.

* Visitation arrangements should be worked out well in advance. There is nothing more tragic than being in court on the eve of a major holiday arguing a visitation order.

* Stick to a schedule but also be flexible. Give the other parent and children as much notice as you can when you will not be able to keep the schedule. And you both may need to adjust the schedule from time to time.

* When children visit, giving of yourself is more important than giving material things.

* Don't use your children as spies or couriers.

* Don't criticize the other parent in front of your children.

* Don't let guilt about the breakup of your marriage interfere with the discipline of your children.

* Try to agree on decisions about the children, especially matters of discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other parent.

* Source: "Divorce Manual: A Client Handbook," published by the American Academy of Marital Lawyers. The manual is available for $10 by calling (800) 431-4233.

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