Helping Your Children Navigate Divorce

Divorce is hard on everyone, especially the children involved. During divorce, many children experience anxiety, grief, and anger. It is important to have an open dialogue with your children while you are going through your divorce. The most important thing you can do to help your children navigate your divorce is to have a plan on how you will have this conversation before having it.

In this blog post, we’re exploring ways that parents can support their children as they adjust to a life after divorce. From providing guidance on sensitive topics like shared custody and managing stress to encouraging healthy communication, here are several strategies you can use to help your kids through the process.

Step 1: Have a Plan

While divorce can be a very emotional time, do not impulsively tell your children about the divorce. You might say things you do not mean to say and create more damage and hurt for your children. You and your spouse should discuss how to tell your children about the divorce and what you are going to say before having this conversation.

Most importantly, you and your spouse should not blame one another for the divorce in front of your children. This will cause your children to feel like they have to take a side, which is ultimately only causing them harm. Being able to encourage the love and affection between the children and your spouse is a factor the court looks at when allocating custody. Blaming one spouse for the divorce does not facilitate a healthy co-parenting relationship.

If you have multiple children, it is very important to speak to all the children at the same time so they all have the same information and can process it together. If your children are of different ages, it might be helpful to first tell them all about the divorce at the same time, but speak individually with every child afterwards and explain the divorce to them in more individualized ways. Here is an age-by-age guide to help guide you through these conversations if your children are of different ages.

For any age, and as suggested by a divorce counselor/middle school counselor we interviewed about this process, she suggests framing the narrative around the main theme of, “We want to be friends and we cannot be friends if we continue to stay married.” This will let your children know that you and your spouse will remain friendly with each other, and the children do not have to pick a side.

When you tell your children about the divorce is almost as important as what you tell them. You and your spouse tell your kids about the divorce together, if possible. However, if you and your spouse cannot agree on how you will tell your kids, using a counselor is highly recommended. It is important to tell your kids about your divorce, so they have an opportunity to ask questions and digest the information. Do not tell your children about your divorce before they head to school or are in a rush. We also recommend not telling your children about your divorce during an important occasion, such as a birthday or holiday. This can create negative associations for your children with these holidays and occasions in the future.

If your children do not have questions or concerns immediately following the initial conversation, schedule a time a few days in the future where everyone can reconvene and ask any questions they want. This also shows that you and your spouse are both there for your children and are both there to support and love them through this difficult time.

Step 2: What to Say When one parent is Leaving the Home

If one parent is leaving the home during the divorce, it is important to give your children these details, so they are not confused or wondering why one of their parents left, and possibly blaming themselves. Children are naturally very curious and will undoubtedly have questions about what their future will look like. It is important that you have answers to these questions. If one parent is leaving the home, have a plan about when the children will see them and how often they will see them. Being able to tell the children these details will help assure them that they are not losing a parent, but still having their family, just in different houses. Your children should not have to arrange time to see both parents. Ensure there is a plan, so the children have stability and love from both parents during the entire divorce.

Step 3: Consult a Counselor

Most likely, your children will be very sad and confused by your divorce. To help them navigate these emotions, you should arrange for them to attend individual counseling. A counselor can help give children the tools they need to navigate this divorce now and in the future. We have recommendations for counselors who specialize in helping children navigate their parents’ divorce.

Step 4: Mediation

Settling your case before it goes to a hearing, such as through mediation, is beneficial when trying to have a smooth divorce, that affects the children as little as possible. Research suggests children experience more psychological and social problems if their parents are engaged in a high conflict divorce, as opposed to a low conflict divorce. Making agreements early and often and filing them with the court will ensure there is as little conflict as possible. For instance, creating an interim agreement that identifies what the parenting schedule is and where the parties will live during the pendency of the divorce gives the children stability and helps prevent confusion or conflict about this in the future. This interim agreement should be filed with the court to assure it is followed.

Overall, while divorce is inevitably difficult on everyone involved, especially the children, these steps can help reduce stress, anxiety, confusion and anger for your children as they navigate this process.

 

Glory Schmidt is an Associate Attorney at Griffiths Law PC.  Glory’s practice is focused exclusively on family law related matters including divorce, parental rights, post-decree disputes, and child support matters.