Telling Your Kids about the Divorce

So, you and your spouse have decided to divorce, but now the question remains, how do you tell your children?  Deciding on how to break the news to your children can be based on several factors, each should be approached with the care and sensitivity that your children need to help them begin to navigate this difficult time. A divorce lawyer that really cares about helping clients will normally be happy assist with additional tips as well. 

  • How many children do you have?
  • Do they know what divorce means?
  • What are the ages of the children?

Understanding how each of these initial simple questions impact the way you explain the process to them is the first important step. There are no second chances here – starting this conversation means you are prepared to discuss possible questions in an age appropriate and self-controlled manner – make sure you do it right!

How Many Children Are Involved?

Specifically, how many minor children (or children still in school – such as a senior in high school that might be 18 years old). The number of children that need to be informed of the decision to divorce plays an important role. When only 1-child is involved, the pressure on that child is significantly higher than when there are multiple children because multiple children being together is its own support system, all by itself. This is NOT to say that siblings provide the emotional support each other needs during a difficult time like this, but it makes a difference.

The discussion with multiple children can be initially all together so that all kids can ask questions and listen to the answers. It is likely necessary to pull one or two kids aside and provide additional explanation of what is happening as well.

Do the Kids Know What Divorce Means?

If your children are old enough to understand what divorce is, the first thing you need to do is make sure they know they are loved, and that the divorce has nothing to do with them.  Divorce for children can be very traumatic, and confusing.  One parent will be leaving the house and will only be seen during scheduled visitation and parenting time. 

It is important to have a plan in place before breaking the news. This means that the parents, no matter how upset they might be at each other, need to have a united front for the best interests of their children and cooperate one last time to avoid putting the kids in the middle of the divorce.  Try to anticipate what questions your child or children may have.  Where will they live?  Who will they live with?  Why are you divorcing?  When will they see the other parent? Where will the other parent be living?  Do they have to move?  If there is a family pet(s) and if so, where will the pet live? Will both parents still attend after school functions?

Most importantly, a parent explaining what divorce means and how everyone’s lives will be affected afterwards is to make very specific things clear to them:

  • Tell the kids you love them – this can’t be stressed enough – tell them this and mean it
  • Do not argue with your spouse – this has to be avoided at all costs – bite your tongue!
  • Know where each parent will be living – and how this new living arrangement will work
  • Tell them the ‘truth’ they need to hear – this means that the two parents work better separate and that both parents care about each other – do NOT spill the messy details
  • It’s not the kids fault – make sure this point is made crystal clear
  • Tell them they can talk to either of you anytime – and listen to their concerns

How Old are the Children?

If you have children that are too young to understand what divorce means, there are a myriad of books that have been written on the topic to help them understand the absence of a parent at home that can be found online or at any local library. When children are too young to understand what divorce means, the topic needs to be discussed in a more simplified format – that mom and dad won’t be living in the same house, that yes, and you will still see mom and dad all the time and talk to them every single day.

Preparing for the Divorce Discussion

Preparation is key. Knowing the potential questions that could be asked and having answers prepared is essential to making this transition as smooth as possible. For many parents, it may be helpful to schedule a session or two with a marriage counselor – not necessarily to save the marriage, but to obtain professional help on how to deal with the emotions of a divorce and learn additional methods for approaching the discussion with the kids. Most marriage counselors will work with couples to help a divorce end up being messy.

In an ideal situation, both parents will remain in the same town, and will remain amicable to each other.  Children do not belong in the middle of divorce.  Emotions run high, but at the end of the day this was a decision made by adults. Don’t play the blame game. Keep your relationship civil in front of the kids, always. 

The most important thing to convey to your child or children is the divorce is not their fault.  They don’t need to know the reason you are divorcing, less is always more. A simple response that sometimes people grow apart is more than adequate.  Be sure to keep the lines of communication open. There will undoubtedly be questions they will have throughout the process. Make sure to make time for them; they will be hurting and need to know they can come to you or your spouse with questions. Always be there for your kids – they still need you both!

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