Telling your children that you’re divorcing is one of the most difficult conversations you’ll have. While many children, especially older children, know when their parents are fighting, it’s a harsh reality to know that your parents will definitely be living apart.
The first guiding rule of getting divorced with kids is that children should hear about the divorce through their parents – not through grandparents, aunts or uncles, friends, or other people.
The second guiding rule is that children need to understand they are still their parents’ number one priority. If you’re getting divorced with young kids, you may need to explain things multiple times.
You and your spouse are likely to have difficulties communicating with each other. You may be angry with your spouse. You may be frustrated with your spouse. Still, it is normally best if you and your spouse reach some understanding so getting divorced with kids goes as smoothly as possible. Let the children know what they should expect – during the divorce process and after the divorce is final.
Helping Kids Through Divorce
Psychology Today provides the following suggestions about communications strategies you can use to help kids through divorce:
Parents should plan what they will say when talking to kids about divorce. Telling kids about divorce should take place during a typical calmer family time such as a weekend. Don’t tell them just before their bedtime or they’re leaving for school. Avoid holidays or birthdays. If you can’t talk with your spouse – consider a divorce counselor or mediator.
Parents should speak to their kids together. A key to how to explain divorce to a child is to show that, as far as the children are concerned, you’re united. Parents should conduct the initial conversation with all the children at the same time – even if they’re of different ages.
What to do and What Not to do When Getting Divorced With Kids
Avoid the blame game. Parents should avoid blaming mom or dad because children need support and reassurance, not conflict. Using we, instead of I, is an important part of understanding how to talk to kids about getting divorced.
Discuss why the divorce is happening. Without focusing on blame, parents should try to explain that they have different interests, or they’ve tried to repair their relationship but can’t. Say, if true, that you like your spouse but don’t love him or her anymore.
Explain what changes they should expect and what things will stay the same. Part of the discussion about getting divorced with kids includes giving them age-appropriate information. Expect that your children will want to know where they will live. If you’ve already negotiated a parenting plan, let them know the details. Otherwise, let them know you’re working on a parenting plan. Emphasize that you’re working to keep them in the same school and their friendships and activities should continue.
Let your kids know which parent will leave the home. When you’re getting divorced with kids, you should also talk to your kids to let them know if you’ll be staying together while the divorce is pending or if one parent is moving out. If a parent is leaving, the children should be told when and where they will see that parent. This will go a long way to help children coping with divorce.
Reassure your children when talking to your kids about divorce. Children will likely feel they were part of the cause of the divorce. In divorces with young children, this is usually more of a concern. Reassure your children that there’s nothing they did that caused or would have stopped the divorce. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. It’s OK to say you’re not sure about some things. Discuss that your goal is to make their lives as warm and loving as possible.
When you’re getting divorced with kids, anticipate that every reaction is normal. Some children may be overwhelmed. Some children may have anticipated the divorce and were just waiting for you to make it official. It’s OK if they cry. It’s OK if they say nothing. It’s OK if they scream. Discuss the divorce when you can reasonably control your emotions so your kids can express their emotions.
Ask your kids if they have questions. Answer the questions honestly. Let them know this is just the first conversation and that they are always free to ask more questions. However, try to keep children out of the legal and financial disputes. Explain that you’re working to resolve those issues and that you’ll explain how they are protected when they’ve been resolved. It’s important to keep communication open when getting divorced with kids. Talk to your kids about divorce in an open and genuine way, especially if your kids are older.
Give your kids time to adjust. Divorce is a huge change. The better you adjust to the changes divorce brings, the easier it will be for your children to adjust.
When you’re getting divorced with kids you will need to adjust your discussions to reflect the ages of your children. Younger children are much more dependent on their parents, so try to keep that in mind while talking to kids. They’re also less likely to understand how their lives will change. Older children are more apt to have strong opinions about which parent they want to spend time with. Older children are more likely to have stronger bonds with friends, teachers, and other people.
At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, our divorce lawyers understand how difficult it can be to get divorced with kids. We do our best to protect the children so they are not involved in the dispute/litigation process. We work to settle the child custody issues, develop lasting parenting plans, and help ensure the correct amount of child support is paid. When you’re going through divorce with a child, we can guide you and provide helpful tips when the time comes to talking to your kids about divorce. To discuss your divorce issues including your children’s priorities, call us at 908-691-2104 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. Our New Jersey offices are located in Clinton and Morristown.