More than 800,000 couples divorce annually in the United States alone. While not all marriages produce children, some do. In that situation, if you’re pursuing a legal separation, you need to consider talking to your kids about divorce.
Of course, talking to your kids about divorce can be difficult to consider. There are so many questions that flood your mind. How will they feel? What will they say? Do you want your spouse there or not when you tell them?
The good news is that children of all ages can be amazingly resilient. However, the key to successfully talking to your kids about divorce lies in following a few strategies to make the experience less challenging for everyone.
Talk to Your Lawyer for Advice
Before ever talking to your kids about divorce, sit down with your attorney to map out the best practices when telling children that you’re ending your marriage. A divorce attorney with years under his or her belt will have been through the process many times. You’ll gather excellent advice, and perhaps learn a thing or two about approaching your kids or teens.
Are you working with a collaborative divorce lawyer? Collaborative-focused legal professionals attempt to make the experience more friendly and less contentious. For example, if you and your spouse aren’t angry at each other and just want to end your romantic ties, you may prefer working with someone who approaches divorce from a win-win mindset. That type of divorce lawyer will likely also help you figure out how to explain your divorce in a way that your child will understand.
Remember that you don’t necessarily have to do exactly what your attorney suggests. You’re just seeking counsel and guidance. In the end, you should think about talking to your kids about divorce based on their needs, as well as yours. Nevertheless, hearing from your attorney is never a bad idea. You might learn something that you never considered before, or discover just how common your situation is.
Talk to Your Spouse Upfront
Whether your spouse is your child’s biological parent, adopted parent, or step-parent, you will obviously want to sit down with him or her initially. Have a heart to heart discussion about talking to your kids about divorce. Be open and honest about the best ways to explain what’s going to happen to the young people in your life.
What if you and your spouse can’t be in the same room at the same time for a mature conversation about talking to your kids about divorce? At that point, you may want to consider going to some divorce mediation sessions.
During divorce mediation, a trained mediator will assist you and your spouse in walking through many aspects of your legal separation, including talking to your kids about divorce. You may choose to have your attorneys present, or you may want to be alone with the mediator. While divorce mediation doesn’t work for everyone, it can be a powerful tool when you’re deciding how to let your children know that your marriage is going to be over soon.
Whether you opt for divorce mediation or a more DIY get-together, be sure to write down what you plan to do. This allows you to both stay on the same page and focus on the task at hand, which is talking to your kids about divorce in a way that makes sense for them but doesn’t scare or worry them.
Remind Your Relatives Not to Tell Your Kids
Is one of your relatives loose-lipped? Without being too aggressive, remind him or her that you and your spouse should be the ones talking to your kids about divorce, not them. The last thing you want is for someone in your extended family to let the information slip.
A good way to make certain this is unlikely to happen is to keep your divorce somewhat of a secret at the earliest stages. Only tell your closest relatives who will understand that they shouldn’t reveal your personal comings and goings to your kids. As your divorce becomes more well-known, including to your children, you can talk freely about it with all members of the family.
If you have close friends who are practically family, you may want to remind them of your needs, too. Again, you’re not being mean. You’re covering your bases so your kids hear about changes in your marriage from you and not someone else.
Have Your Child Speak With a Lawyer
At this point, you’ve already spoken to your child about your divorce. Regardless of your child’s reaction, he or she might want to talk with one of your lawyers, too. Sometimes, having an objective third party to speak with can diffuse some of the intensity of the circumstances.
Your family law attorney may even offer to help you when you’re talking to your kids about divorce. If that doesn’t happen, feel free to bring up the subject. If your child is older, being able to be upfront with a lawyer can help answer questions.
There are also child support attorneys working in the law. Their role is to be the attorney specifically devoted to the needs of the child. Let’s say that your child has a trust fund or has some other unusual situation. A child support attorney can work to make sure that the divorce doesn’t adversely affect the future of the child from a legal perspective.
Have a Plan for Custody
Who will have primary custody of your children after you get your divorce? Will you share joint custody? Or will one of you have sole custody, with the other parent just getting visitation rights? A lot of factors go into child custody, which is why so many child custody attorney professionals are in need.
What do you need to think about when planning out custody? Living arrangements is a huge consideration. Let’s say your spouse is going to move out of the area. Doing so could affect your child’s educational and social situation. If the move is out of state, it may mean that you can file for sole custody.
Another child custody factor to think about is which parent has the time to be hands-on. In a perfect world, both parents would be able to spend equal time with their kids. However, the universe isn’t perfect. And that means that some parents are better suited to be the primary caretakers of their children.
Finally, a court won’t grant child custody to a parent who is deemed unfit. If you’re leaving your spouse because of domestic abuse or another criminal situation, you may not need to figure out custody.
Keep Your Child’s Age in Mind When Talking to Your Kids About Divorce
One huge tip to recall when talking to your kids about divorce is that you should always be age-specific in the way you deal with the experience. A baby or toddler might not even notice that anything has changed after one of you moves out. However, an elementary school age child or teenager will have a lot of questions.
For that reason, choose a time to talk about the divorce when you can give your uninterrupted attention to your kids. Don’t have the television on, and don’t make it a half hour before they’re going to bed or you’re all scheduled to be at a party. Instead, pick a day when everyone can discuss what’s going to happen and ask as many questions as they want.
What types of questions can you expect? Honestly, questions will probably be all over the board. Some kids want to know if they’ve caused the divorce. Explain to them that the divorce isn’t their fault and that you both love them fully even though your marriage is going to end. Other kids may not be surprised, especially if you and your spouse haven’t gotten along or lived under the same roof for a while.
Be prepared for the question about where they’ll live to come up. That’s why you need to have some idea about child custody and your plan moving forward. Although if you’re not sure what you’re going to do yet, don’t ever lie. When talking to your kids about divorce, treat every conversation as a chance to be honest and transparent. You don’t have to go into every detail, particularly about why you’re getting a divorce, but you should be as genuine as you can.
Arrange Child Care During Court or Mediation Dates
Are your kids going to school? You may be able to set up the court or mediation dates when they’re going to be away. However, if you’re unable to make that arrangement, you’ll need to figure out toddler care or after school care. Many parents forget about this issue and wind up scrambling at the last minute.
Ask your regular babysitter, a friend, or a family member to step in and serve as a childcare provider when you have sessions in court or with your lawyer. Be sure to tell your child in advance that someone will be coming over. If you’re in the early stages of your divorce and haven’t told your kids yet about it, remind your babysitter not to say anything. Any information about your marriage should come from you and your spouse, not from someone else.
Educate Your Child on Divorce
As part of your parental role, you’ll want to make sure that you explain what divorce is — and isn’t. Many kids are poorly informed or only know about divorce from shows they’ve seen. They don’t fully understand how the process works. For instance, divorce can take quite a bit of time. You and your spouse might still live together until you can sell the house or one of you can get an apartment. And that’s okay. Every divorce is unique. None of them fit a cookie-cutter mold.
When you’re first talking to your kids about divorce, tell them that you’re learning as you go, too. Assure them that you’ll be able to discover the best way to make sure the divorce leads to something positive for everyone.
A little stumped on how best to play the role of parent and teacher? Check the Internet for ideas from some early child education experts. Many of them are willing to share their wealth of knowledge for free in articles and on blog posts. Who knows? You might find that the process helps you to understand more about getting a divorce, too.
Allow for Predictable and Unpredictable Emotional Ups and Downs
Chances are strong that the decision to end your marriage didn’t come without a lot of emotions attached. Accordingly, your kids are likely to have some strong reactions when you start talking to your kids about divorce. You need to gird yourself for this reality because sometimes kids say things that aren’t nice or lash out, even when you’re trying to be gentle, loving, and kind.
Try not to get angry at or argue with your children, even though it might be hard. Ideally, you need to let them vent in a safe way. That doesn’t mean you should allow them to be disrespectful, but it does mean that you have to be understanding. Some children have no clue their parents are even contemplating divorce. When they hear about it, they naturally go into shock and may grieve the loss of the family unit.
Seem like you can’t seem to help your child despite your best intentions? Consider getting help from a therapist who specializes in working with children and teens. Many psychologists and counselors focus their efforts on helping young clients traverse difficult times of life, including the divorce of their moms and dads. Look online to find a therapy expert near you, or ask your pediatrician for a referral.
Going through the dissolution of a marriage isn’t simple. But that doesn’t mean that talking to your kids about divorce needs to be completely uncomfortable or difficult. Make a plan for it to be a chance to connect with them and show them that while their family is changing, they’re still the apple of your eye.