Parents with children in common will generally be ordered to attend a six (6) hour on-line parent education program. The purpose of this program is to help parents understand how children are affected by divorce and other family changes.

Index of Topics:

The Grief Process

Adult Response to Grief:

Feelings of Sadness and Loss

Feelings of Denial

Feelings of Anger

Feelings of Anxiety

Feelings of Guilt, Self-Blame


The Grief Process - children

Feelings of loss:

Feelings of Denial

Feelings of Anger

Feelings of Anxiety

Feelings of Relief

Acceptance Phase Works to experience family happiness

Helping Your Infant Adjust to Separation/Divorce

  1. Create a stimulating environment in which infant can use all his senses: touch, hearing and sight. Provide age appropriate toys, mobiles, room decorations, and music. Ensure that important belongings are available in the homes of each parent and in daycare.

  2. Respond in warm, positive ways to infant's achievements (smiling, making sounds, grasping a rattle, drinking from a bottle, cup, etc,)

  3. Communicate (interact) with infant by speaking, rocking, singing and smiling.

  4. Provide consistency in daily schedule re: feeding, napping, bathing, bedtime. Plan cooperatively with the other parent to minimize changes in the infant's environment and schedule.

  5. Arrange for peaceful, undisturbed time to feed, bathe, read to and sing to baby. Avoid parent-parent conflict in infant's presence.

  6. If infant needs to be cared for outside the home, minimize the number of care givers. If infant resides primarily with one parent, allow frequent contact with the second parent (brief, if necessary).

  7. If daycare is necessary, thoroughly assess safety and cleanliness of environment, ability of care giver to provide intellectual stimulation, one-to-one attention, and nurture. Check experience of care givers and call references. Familiarize care giver with child's behavior, needs and routine. Spend time with care giver before infant is alone with him/her to allow infant to become familiar with new environment and adapt to the care giver.

  8. Gradually introduce infants to neighbors and relatives to establish relationships.

  9. Arrange for appropriate health care and keep a record of well visits, illness, immunizations, and medications. Communicate with the infant's other parent regularly regarding health, illness, immunizations, medication and changing safety needs.

  10. Be aware that the infant "takes" a great deal and gives back little. Caring fo the infant singlehandedly may be overwhelming. Parents need to be replenished through adult support systems.

Helping your Toddler/Preschooler Adjust to Separation/Divorce

  1. In each home, provide an environment where child can explore, plan and learn. Provide toys for the development of small and large motor skills and opportunities for exercise. Foster the development of independence by teaching and allowing the child to feed, dress, toilet self, etc.

  2. Provide opportunities for language development by talking to child, listening to and praising child for communicating, reading to child, playing tapes/cds with stories and songs, naming objects while driving in car, taking walks, etc.

  3. Provide opportunities for imaginative play to foster the development of creativity and allow the child to work through negative feelings. Have materials for creative play available in the home of each parent (dolls, play dough, paints, etc.).

  4. Allow frequent contact with each parent. If child resides primarily with one parent, avoid lengthy separations and mark on a calendar the times when child will be with each parent. Provide pictures of each parent and parent's home for child to view. Relate time/day in which child will see parent to familiar event.

  5. Arrange special times with the child: play, read, him/her, go for a walk, etc.

  6. Arrange for short periods of supervised play with peers. Monitor child's play for aggression and reinforce appropriate social skills.

  7. Provide a toddler proof environment where child is protected from safety hazards. Supervise at all times. Communicate with child's other parent regarding child's changing safety needs.

  8. Provide consistency in the child's routine. Explain who will pick child up, where and when. Allow rituals to be maintained in each home and allow child to transport security objects (blanket, toy, etc.).

  9. Help the child understand the reality of the separation by providing repeated explanations and using concrete examples. Use dolls to act out changes in relationships and living arrangements. Write and illustrate stories. Read books about divorce. If possible, show child parent's new home prior to separation. Reassure child that separation is not his/her fault and that he/she is loved.

  10. Set clear limits and reinforce child for positive behavior. Communicate with other parents to encourage consistency. Expect regressions (baby talk, disturbed sleep, thumb sucking, bed wetting and tantrums), especially when he/she changes households. Maintain limits while responding with patience and understanding.

Helping your Elementary School Aged Child Adjust to Separation/Divorce

  1. View your child as an individual with unique strengths and weaknesses rather than as reflection of his/her other parent. Focus on problem behaviors without condemning the child or alluding to the other parent (e.g.- "I am disappointed that you were dishonest with me" rather than "You are a liar like your father.")

  2. Let your child know that he/she is an object of love and affection. Communicate verbally through assurances of love, and non-verbally by holding and hugging. Set aside time, ideally each day, to spend with the child on a one to one basis, exclusive of new spouse, romantic friends or the child's siblings.  Read a story, take a walk, play a game, do a craft project, etc. This will reassure the child of his/her important place in your life, foster intimacy and create an atmosphere in which meaningful communication can occur.

  3. If you or your child's other parent behave in ways which are hurtful to the child, acknowledge the inappropriateness of the behavior. This will validate the child's perceptions and feelings and prevent the child from blaming himself. For example, you may say: "I am sorry that your dad didn't come to see you this weekend. It was not responsible of him to call at the last minute. I can understand how disappointed and frustrated you must feel;" or " If I am irritable, it's not your fault... I love you very much..I'm just having a hard time."

  4. Provide the child with a calendar so that he/she can visualize his/her schedule with each parent. Adhere to the schedule except as discussed with the child.

  5. Maintain contact between visits by phoning, writing letters, or exchanging audio tapes. Understand that the responsibility may largely fall into the hands of the parent. The child may wish to speak for only a few minutes and may call less frequently than the parent. Tell the child when you will be out of town and how he/she (or his other parent) may reach you if necessary.

  6. Develop strategies to ease the transition from the home of one parent to the other. Allow your child time alone if he/she desire or spend some quiet, unstructured time with your child upon his return. Encourage your child to talk about the pain evoked by repeated separations, difficulties experienced during time with the other parent or other matters of concern. Allow the child time to acclimate, without thrusting him/her into immediate action. This may require having the child arrive at your home an hour earlier than originally planned.

  7. If you are a non-resident parent, establish an area ( a room or part of a room) where the child's personal belongings will remain and will not be disturbed by other family members. Allow your child to assist in setting up this area.

  8. Provided repeated, simple explanations of the reasons for the separation or divorce. Reassure the child that he/she was not to blame.

    • If there were certain aspects of the marriage relationship which were particularly dysfunctional, explain this to the child in simple terms so that he can begin to build an understanding of the dynamics of relationships and distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. For example, you may say, "Your mom worked very long hours and was away on business a great deal. We stopped talking to one another about important things. I felt very lonely."

    • If you and your ex-spouse have different interpretations of the problem leading to your separation, explain this to your child and reassure him that he need not decide of one parent is "telling the truth."

    • Read books about divorce, draw pictures or write stories to enhance your child's understanding. For younger children, use dolls, action figures or puppets.

    • Tell you child about positive and pleasurable parts of your marriage and family life; share stories, photographs and memorabilia.

  9. Support the child's involvement in meaningful activities and friendships. If moving to a new home, select a neighborhood with many children and opportunities for extracurricular activities. Attempt to remain in close proximity to your child's other parent to minimize disruption to the child's life. Provide opportunities for your child to play with other children at least two or three times a week. Younger elementary school children will usually be satisfied with opportunities to play with children in general and will not necessarily discriminate on the basis of gender and age of specific children. Older elementary school children will be more selective and strongly prefer the company of specific friends.

    Therefore, for older elementary aged children it will be important to provide transportation for your child to visit friends, host your child's friends and allow them to accompany your child for visitation or outings. It will be important to adjust your schedule of contact with your child to accommodate his/her social and recreational needs.

    • Attend your child's school and athletic events and performances.

    • Help your child inform his other parent of important events.

    • Share hobbies with your child (e.g. carpentry, arts and crafts, skating).

  10. Provide opportunities for your child to associate with other children and families experiencing separation and divorce through groups for children, community organizations or friendships to foster a sense of belonging.

  11. Allow siblings to have a balance of time together and apart. Avoid treating siblings as a unit at all times. Foster individual interests and relationships for each. Allow each child to have individual belongings and personal space. Avoid delegating responsibility for younger siblings to older elementary school aged children.

  12. If your child lacks a meaningful relationship with one parent, provide substitute role models (Scout leaders, athletic coaches, family friends or relatives). Avoid negative generalizations about adults or the opposite sex and negative correlation between the child and his same sex parent. Convey positive values of each gender to your child.

  13. If your child's safety and well-being are endangered during the time he spends with his other parent, confront the parent directly and seek legal support as well. When indicated, limit child's contact, eliminate overnights or request supervised visitation. Encourage the child to discuss the problem openly with you to ensure his safety without condemning the parent whose behavior is in question. Help the child to develop coping strategies (e.g. a list of people child may call in the event of an emergency, money for a phone call, etc.)

  14. Teach your child beginning steps in self-reliance (simple cooking projects, selecting own clothes, helping to decorate a new room, caring for a pet). Avoid burdening the child with excessive responsibilities, large number of chores, or care of a younger sibling with interferes with the child's ability to pursue age appropriate activities and relationships. Always provide for childcare in your absence.

  15. If you child is clingy and reluctant to separate, be supportive but encourage the child to pursue normal activities. If you child is fearful at night, help the child to develop coping strategies (listening to music, holding a pet, reading, playing quietly). Sit with and read or talk to the child at bedtime and comfort him briefly during the night. Avoid sharing the bed with the child. Reward the child's success.

  16. Avoid dwelling on your financial, personal, emotional or physical concerns with the child or within the child's hearing. Communicate the message: "we have resources... we will make it... this is a grown up problem and not something for you to be concerned about." Reassure your child that you are capable of providing for his safety and well being.

  17. Encourage your child to express concerns about losing you as a primary caretaker. Discuss options for care of the child in the event of your death. Reassure the child that he will be cared for.

  18. Advise the school of changes in your child's life. Communicate with teachers, administrators and counselors to monitor your child's academic and behavioral progress in school. Formulate a plan to support your child and reevaluate several times a year.

  19. Provide a specific time and place for your child to complete school work. Be available or arrange for a competent adult to provide supervision and assistance as needed. Avoid placing a strong emphasis on your child's school performance during times of family stress. Reassure your child that a temporary "slip" in school work is common following separation and divorce.

  20. To foster the child's development of self-control, create a stable and predictable environment:

    • Establish rituals & traditions (e.g. regular family meal times, weekly family meetings).

    • Select a few important target behaviors (e.g. Control of physical aggression, clearing the table, making bed) and make expectations, rewards and consequences clear.

    • Carry out consequences consistently but do not be punitive or harsh in response to the child's failures.

    • Model self control for your child. Avoid use of physical punishment and avoid shouting matches. Do not respond to the child's threats with counter-threats ( e.g. When child says, "I'll show you, I'm going to live with daddy" avoid responding with "I'll pack your bags)."

    • Expect that your child may temporarily regress (slip back to earlier behaviors) in response to the family change. If discipline has been inconsistent or lax the child will need time to comply with your new expectations.

  21. Recognize these suggestions as guidelines from which to pick and choose but also recognize that your energy has its limitations. Don't be discouraged or hard on yourself when you cannot be the perfect parent. This is a difficult time for you as well as your children.

Helping your Middle School Aged Child Adjust to Separation and Divorce

  1. Understand how important it is for your child to have a sense of belonging and feel the "same" as others in his/her peer group.

    • Discuss and help to arrange peer activities
    • find resources available in the community for this age group
    • Join a car pool or ask a friend to help provide transportation

  2. Include adolescent in establishing schedules, vacation plans or visits. Be as flexible as possible and incorporate his/her growing activities and social commitments into your planning time together.

  3. Know your child's academic program and teachers and keep informed about his/her progress.

    • inform the school counselor and your child's teachers about separation/divorce
    • attend back to school night to meet teachers
    • arrange for conferences if you and/or child have concerns
    • ask school for help in supporting/helping student in areas of concern

  4. Make time to totally focus on child in an unconditionally loving manner. Middle school age kids frequently say their parents forget that they're kids because they're older and taller, but that they still need hugs, praise (e.g. "I'm glad you're you") and time with parent.

  5. Communicate and spend time with your child. (See communicating with your teenager)

  6. Work with your child to establish a structure for school work which includes time and location for study, subjects and opportunities for parental oversight. Make sure youngster has all materials needed for study.

  7. Get to know your child's friends/parents. Discuss curfews, acceptable places to go. Encourage get-togethers at your home.

  8. Discuss and establish clear expectations with adolescent about curfews and household responsibilities in your home. Determine consequences that you can follow through with when adolescent is in your home.

 Helping your Older Adolescent Adjust to Separation / Divorce

  1. Since older adolescents are able to understand more, they may ask questions that they have had in the past about their parents' marriage. Answer questions honestly without speaking negatively about the other parent. To help youngster grasp a longitudinal view of the marriage , discuss its history and including positive, loving times. Discuss relationships - both yours and your child's to help him/her understand healthy ways of relating and how you learned from your experiences.

  2. Make time to totally focus on your child in an unconditionally loving manner. These kids frequently say that their parents forget that they're kids because they're older or taller, but they still need hugs, praise (e.g. "I'm glad you're you") and time with parents.

  3. Communicate and catch your youngster when you can.

  4. Demonstrate that it's all right for your adolescent to go on with his life by seeking adult support for yourself, counseling or other needed services when appropriate.

  5. Discuss rules and consequences regarding curfews, driving, schoolwork, parties and other areas of your adolescent's life that require parental supervision. Be able to enforce rules and follow through with consequences.

  6. When one parent is not involved with your child, try to have friends or family members of the same sex as the child to model appropriate behavior.

  7. Permit adolescents to decide how close they want to be with parents and parent's adult friends. Expect courteous or respectful behavior and interactions but don't force closeness. Use discretion in dating and when to involve youngster.

  8. Help youngster explore and make decisions about future. Learn what resources are available at the school and make use of them. Search for mentors form different sources.

  9. Get together with other families to reinforce your sense of family.

  10. Be flexible; modify time with adolescent based on hi/her request. Don't force him/her to have a relationship with the other parent, but support that relationship if youngster wants to be closer.

The Court Process

Related to Family Law cases

Scheduling Conference (Approximately 45-60 days after answer is filed)

Pendente Lite Hearing (Latin term for "pending litigation")

Settlement/Pre-Trial Conference (Approximately 90-120 days after Scheduling Conference is held)

Merits Hearing (Approximately 60 - 90 days after Settlement/Pretrial conference)

Family Law Help Cente

The Family Law Help Center provides legal information and forms to assist unrepresented litigants in matters of divorce, custody/visitation, child support and name changes. The Center is funded through a grant from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, but is staffed entirely by the Maryland Center for Legal Assistance.