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Around the Table

Levitt Family Law & Mediation’s Blog

Telling Children about Divorce

by | Apr 23, 2024 | Divorce

I recall a client years ago whose biggest fear was not the divorce itself, but having to tell her daughter about the impending divorce. The next time I saw the client, I asked her how it went. She told me that her daughter told her she already knew that things were not good between the parents, and was actually relieved that her parents were going to stop fighting and find new ways to be happy.

It is impossible to predict how children will react to being told that their parents are getting divorced. Some, like my client’s daughter, saw it as inevitable and a pathway to peace. Others are traumatized. To get a sense of the many ways children react to the reality of their parents getting divorced, listen to children themselves in https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/12/style/the-day-my-family-changed-forever.html

Kids Know More Than You Think

Children are often more aware of what is going on in the household than parents think. For some children, they are witnessing outright conflict, verbal or otherwise. However, even when parents don’t argue, children may notice their parents sleeping in separate rooms, having little communication, and doing things separately rather than doing things together as a family. While there is never a “good time” to tell children about divorce, being thoughtful about when and how to tell them and what to say, can help things go more smoothly.

You Aren’t Alone: Use Available Resources

Consulting a child specialist (such as a divorce coach), or a child psychologist can be a good first step for parents to gain insight into how and when to tell their children about the divorce. A child specialist or child psychologist will understand the developmental stages of children (young, teen or adult children), and what might serve the needs of each child. If parents can be guided to craft a joint message to the children about the divorce, and focus on love and unity rather than loss, children may feel less threatened and understand better that they are still a family unit, just one that might look different than it did before.

Due to safety concerns or other reasons, it may not be possible in all cases for parents to work together regarding how and when to tell children about divorce. Yet even in these situations, the same resources are available, such as child specialists or child psychologists.

Divorce support groups can also provide information and assistance in preparing to tell your children about divorce. Hearing the experiences of others can give context to how to have such a difficult and heart-breaking conversation. Other avenues are attorneys who can provide suggestions regarding talking with children about divorce, books on the subject, even podcasts where you can listen and learn and educate yourself.

Be Prepared

There are many different ways to tell children about divorce, and there are some general concepts to keep in mind regardless of how and when you talk with your children. Here are just a few:

  • Consult with a professional, such as a child specialist or child psychologist, for guidance
  • Plan ahead
  • Tell your children together, if possible
  • Anticipate questions and think about how to field those questions
  • Keep communications simple and at age-appropriate levels
  • Explain in basic terms what happened, but leave out the gory, adult details that your children do not need to know, and make sure to tell them that you love them and that the divorce is not in any way their fault
  • Avoid negative comments or narratives about the other parent
  • Talk about how life might change in certain ways, and that you will keep an open dialogue about the divorce as needed and as is appropriate, without involving them directly in decision-making or putting them in the middle
  • Be realistic, yet positive, and forward-looking – address children’s fears and concerns
  • If your children need help coping with the divorce, get them the help they need
  • Check in with them regularly after you tell them about the divorce, and remind them again that you love them and that the divorce is not their fault – children may need to hear this more than once as they navigate their parents going through a divorce

At the end of the day, it is up to you how and when you tell your children about divorce. Be prepared, be responsible and be respectful. Expect that there will be emotion and questions. Rise above whatever conflicts you have with your partner to tell your children about divorce in a safe, reassuring and loving manner. Positive co-parenting starts in the “how” and “when” of telling your children about divorce.

Contact us to find out more about how we can help you find a path forward with your family law matter and learn more about mediation, Collaborative Law or settlement counsel.