How to cope when you're going through a divorce

Moms and lawyers share their advice

You find the love of your life, get married and have children. The last thing you want to think about is divorce, but statistics from the American Psychological Association show that 40 to 50 percent of all marriages end. When it comes to breaking up and starting over, divorce can be tough on the entire family, but there are ways to make it easier on both you and your children.

Turn to family for support
One month after Mariana Zambrano met the man she would marry, she found herself pregnant. She felt pressured into marriage because of the baby but stayed when she realized that her then-husband was a good provider and a good father. Unfortunately, over time, his infidelity was just too much and, in 2008, she decided to end their 7-year marriage.

"I didn't want my two girls, who were eight-years-old and two-years-old at the time, to think that this behavior was okay," says the Poughkeepsie mom.

Navigating through divorce wasn't easy. Zambrano took her children and moved in temporarily with her mother. Over the years, the relationship between Kassandra, Zambrano's oldest daughter, and her father fizzled. "Kassandra is 18 now and doesn't want him in her life, but my youngest daughter still sees him."

It's her family support system that saw her and the children through the tough times. "My mom was so comforting to my children and they absolutely adore her," says Zambrano. "It's important to have a support system like I have with my family. You also can't think about the 'should'ves, could'ves and would'ves.' Just keep thinking about what you can do to move forward."

It's been 10 years since the divorce was finalized and Zambrano says that the girls are doing well.

Keep a sense of normalcy
Sky Wallen started her divorce proceedings in June 2015, but it took years of court, lawyers and many discussions before it was finalized. "After many years in marriage counseling, it was a mutual divorce," says Wallen, a Saugertiesbased mom of nine-year-old Kylar and seven-year-old Cooper. "I tried to shelter my kids from the process but, like many people, ended up in family court."

Unfortunately, Kylar struggled with what was happening around him. "He was around his father more often when he lived with us, so it was hard on him," says Wallen. 

To help keep a sense of normalcy for the children, Wallen planned getaways with her children a few times a year to make sure they had fun. "We took family trips to see my sisters, cousins and parents," says Wallen.

Find a neutral person to talk to
After 14 years of marriage, Karen Miller and her husband decided to end their union. "We just weren't compatible anymore," says Miller, a Plattekill mom to 10-year-old twins, Emily and Juliana, and 13-year-old Paul. "It's still difficult because the kids are asking more questions even now and some days are harder than others."

Miller's children started seeing a therapist. "There they had a neutral person they could talk to because it's hard for them to talk about their dad to me or vice versa," says Miller. "I didn't know how they were feeling because they looked like they were okay at times."

When it comes to getting through the difficult times, Miller says, "Just remember, you'll rise above all of it."

Put the children first
According to Jonna Spilbor, a local attorney with a heavy focus on divorce and family law based in the town of Poughkeepsie, it's important to put your children first throughout the divorce process.

"Every move you make, from the second that you say you want a divorce, should be made to make the children comfortable," she says. "There can even be changes, such as moving to a new home, that roll out slowly, but don't announce you're moving within 24 hours of announcing that daddy isn't going to be living there anymore."

Meghan Mossey, an attorney with Stenger, Roberts, Davis & Diamond, LLP in Wappingers, reminds parents that you'll always be a family even through divorce. "The dynamic changes, but you'll always be a family," she says. "The idea is to get to the place where you can celebrate graduations, birthdays, weddings and grandchildren together."

A great place to start is to reassure the children. "Let them know that mommy and daddy are there for them and will support them no matter what," says Mossey. "Too many times the parent will say things like 'Mommy took my money, so I can't do this or that with you.' Don't say stuff like that."

Unfortunately, it's not always so easy depending on your soon-to-be ex-partner, but Spilbor says to keep the kids out of your messes. "Don't make the divorce about the kids at all," she says. "For example, when there's an opportunity to have your children spend more time or do something special, like a wedding or a holiday thing with the other parent that's not on the visitation calendar, let them. You are allowing your kids to be happy and well-adjusted."

Divorce is a constant effort
After divorcing 11 years ago, Julie Ciardi says she looked at people with amazement when they said to her "You're lucky that your divorce went so easily."

"It wasn't luck," says the Poughkeepsie mom of three, 15-year-old Caroline and 13-year-old Jack from her first marriage and 4-year-old Cason from her current marriage. "Even though we weren't right for each other anymore and wanted different things in our lives, we made a 100 percent commitment to co-parent. We worked hard at it."

To help other parents get through divorce, Ciardi started the Divorced Mommy podcast. She says that working on divorce is a constant
effort. "We're either going to tick each other off or we can choose to hold grudges," she says. "Just remember that you can't control another person, but you can be an incredible role model. Keep your side of the street clean and neat."

Ciardi and her ex-husband even took their children to Disney World together because they didn't want to miss seeing the children's experiences. "In terms of the kids' happiness, our philosophy was just because it's not working out between us doesn't mean they can't have an amazing childhood."

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer based in Poughkeepsie.