Telling Your Children About Divorce
Divorce is a difficult time for everyone and telling your children about your divorce can be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. It is a highly stressful experience for everyone, including the children. It is the moment when all your fears about the separation and your children’s reactions become reality. Although this process is unlikely to ever be easy, there are ways to assist you and your children through this process.
Share the news together
It is better if parents share the news with the children together. If possible, depending on the level of risk and safety of your circumstances, try and work together on what you will say, to help the children see a united front and reduce the stress that they face as a result of the separation and divorce. Choose a place to tell them that is familiar and comfortable. It is imperative to make it easy for the children and tell them that the choice to divorce is what will be best for the family. If it is not possible to speak together, consider having other close family relatives present when sharing the news so that they can also help answer questions and reassure your children that everything is going to be okay.
Plan what to say and be prepared
Prior to talking to your children, take steps to identify what your divorce will mean for the children and how they might react to the news. Think about exactly what you want to say about the breakup and how you can reassure them about your decision. You will need to get control of your own emotions so the children don’t get upset at your distress, and you will need to handle their emotions and give them time to share what they are thinking and feeling.
Be patient and listen to their feelings
Listen to what your children have to say and acknowledge that what they’re feeling is okay. They might feel angry, upset or sad; these are all valid feelings. Actively listening to your child’s thoughts and feelings will give you an opportunity to validate and address their emotions, which will reassure them that they are not responsible for this decision. You should also regularly update your children about the developments.
Do not blame the other parent
Do not criticise your ex spouse or partner in front of your children. You should continue to reassure the children that the separation has nothing to do with them, it is not their fault as to why it is happening and that they will never have to choose between their parents.
Prepare your children for changes and the things that will not change
Identify the things that will remain constant in the children’s lives and the things that will likely change as a result of the divorce. It is advisable to maintain their regular routines and adhere to a consistent schedule, similar to the one prior to the divorce. Knowing the changes in advance might help them transition with ease and give them comfort in knowing what remains the same.
Stay future focused
It is essential to break the news to your children in a manner that focuses on the future and not on what has happened in the past. Children need to know that despite not being together as a couple anymore, you will always be their parents and will continue to be a family. They want to be reassured of your ongoing love for them and that both parents will be there for them.
Provide age-appropriate information
Avoid giving your children details they do not need as this may cause unnecessary sadness and anxiety. Provide them with age-appropriate information in plain language, that they can easily understand. Your child’s age and maturity level can impact how much information and detail they can handle. If you have children of different ages, you might want to talk to them separately so you can vary your approach.
Younger children and toddlers may not comprehend the situation and understand their parents’ love for them after they are not living with them full-time. They may also have fantasies of reconciliation and strategise what they can do to reduce the tension between parents. Be sure not to create any unrealistic expectations and use language that emphasises your continuing love for them.
Older children and teens are generally going through hormonal changes and find it difficult to regulate their emotions. Older kids lives are changing at a personal level and this news would be an added burden to take on top of that. As such, acknowledge their emotions and encourage them to speak to you when they feel ready and comfortable.
Adult children despite having seen the gaps in your relationship, may still not be ready to hear the news. Oversharing should not be done as that would again indicate that you expect them to take sides.
Give the children time to settle and let them know they can talk to you again if they want to, or ask questions at a later time. If you note that your children are not taking it well, read a book about divorce with them.
Keep private your discussions relating to children
You and your ex-partner should discuss matters relating to children, in private. It’s important to make key decisions together and agree on how to move forward, but make sure the children are brought into the conversation after you and your ex have come to an agreement. Do not fight in front of the children as this can make them feel responsible for it.
Once you have told your children about a separation or divorce it is important that you keep the lines of communication open for your children to talk to you. They might have lots of questions and it might take some time for them to think of them. Let them know that they can talk to either of their parents, as you both want what is best for them.
Take into consideration your child’s mental health as well as your own
There are many different resources available to help you and your family process your divorce. Seeking out guidance from a family therapist, counsellor or psychologist can offer additional support to both parents and children during this challenging time. By utilizing these services, families can create a healthy and supportive environment for their children.
Using Parenting Coordination to ease the transition to co-parents
Parenting coordination or family mediation can ease the transition to co-parents after a divorce or separation. A parenting coordinator can assist with custody arrangements, living arrangements and visiting arrangements, which can be transformed into a parenting plan. A family mediator is trained in conflict resolution and is skilled in helping parties work together to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. If you’re seeking a solution to minimize the impact of your divorce on your children, don’t hesitate to contact our compassionate team of lawyers.
Below is a summary of things to remember going forward.
The Do’s and Don’ts of talking to your children about separation
Things not to do
- Do not lie or make promises you can’t keep.
- Do not share too much information as it will imply that you are wanting the child to take sides.
- Do not show your negativity about the separation and divorce. Reiterate that the decision taken is for the best interests of the family.
- Do not blame your ex-partner as the children feel responsible. Keep the conversation neutral and mutual.
- Do not communicate through the children. Keep the communication direct with your ex-partner.
Things to do
- Make it easy for your children to love both parents.
- Prepare in advance.
- Tell them the truth in an age-appropriate manner.
- Be civil with your ex-partner to give more stability to your children.
- Give reassurance to your children that the divorce has nothing to do with them.
- Remain future focused.
- Avoid arguing with your children.
Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers offer specialist family law advice and are based in St Leonards on Sydney’s North Shore. If you have recently separated or have a Family Law enquiry, please contact us on (02) 9437 0010 or send us an email at email@example.com to discuss your matter in complete confidence. We have a dedicated team of experienced family lawyers to handle your matter effectively and efficiently, providing you with reliable, direct and practical advice.
About the Authors:
Lisa Wagner is Managing Director and Principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Lisa is an Accredited Family Law specialist holding honours degrees in economics and law. She is also a Collaboratively trained Family Lawyer, a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, and a Parenting Coordinator. Lisa has over 30 years’ experience as a specialist family lawyer, experienced litigator and skilful negotiator in all family law matters; working for the majority of that time in Sydney’s CBD as well as on Sydney’s lower North Shore and Northern Beaches.
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Zoha Khan is a Senior Family Lawyer at Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Zoha holds a Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws from Macquarie University and is currently undertaking a Master of Applied Law (Family Law) at the College of Law. She has experience in advising on a range of complex property and high-conflict parenting matters, which makes her a valuable member of the Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers team.
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These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.