Getting a divorce is a hard decision, but it can be even harder when you need to explain the divorce to children. Whether or not you’ve already spoken to a divorce attorney in Houston, TX, knowing how to break the news of your divorce to your children is a crucial step. Depending on the age of the child and the custody arrangements, the first step of talking to your child or children may set the tone for how smoothly certain proceedings in the divorce go.
Seven Tips for Talking to Your Children When Getting a Divorce
1. Prepare for the Talk
When you tell your children that you are getting a divorce, preparation is key. You and your spouse will need to be on the same page and have the same goals when you break the news. In other words; you will need to agree on how you want to tell your children and how much your children will know about the situation.
For older children, you can probably anticipate the reaction if your divorce has been a long time coming, or if you and your spouse have separated before. For younger children, you will need to approach the conversation differently and likely with simpler language.
2. Be Ready for Questions
Your children will inevitably have several questions about the news, such as “why are you getting a divorce?” You and your spouse should have mutually agreed on answers for these questions that are appropriate for the age of your child or children. Your answers must line up so that your children are not confused by the situation. Some common questions children may want answers to could include:
Who Is Moving Out?
Most children understand that “divorce” means that one parent is leaving the home and going to live somewhere else. This question will be the first of many related to custody. Preferably, you and your spouse should have already agreed on who will have primary custody or, at the very least, who will be staying in the home and who will be leaving.
Typically, the parent taking primary custody will stay in the family home, but this isn’t always the case. Be prepared to talk with your children about who is moving out, when the parent is moving, and where they are moving to. The more confirmed details you have, the more at-ease your children will be.
Where Will the Children Live?
Your children will want to know where they are living and which parent they are living with. Sometimes, the decision of where the children live is decided by their education arrangements, social/recreational engagements, or even their health (such as proximity to hospitals where they have treatments).
Children need to be assured about their stability, so knowing where they will live can be comforting. This is particularly true for older children who may already have established social lives and who may not want to move away from friends.
How Often Will the Children See the Other Parent?
While divorce typically means separation of spouses, it also means separation of a parent and child. It’s common for children to be most distressed by the idea that they might not see one parent very often. Although how often a parent will be able to see a child may be determined by custody arrangements set by the court, it’s possible that spouses can agree on a pre-arranged schedule that allows children to see the separated parent often.
If custody has already been determined by the court by the time you talk with your child or children, then you will need to be prepared for additional custody questions. Some custody arrangements detail how holidays and vacations will be allocated, which may affect recreational activities or summer plans, like away camps or trips. Having the answers to these questions will reassure your children about their immediate and future stability.
3. Don’t Play the Blame Game
During a divorce and custody agreement, neither parent can play the blame game. No matter how contentious your divorce is, even if one spouse is at fault for the divorce, it’s ideal if your children are not aware of this. When one parent is blamed for the divorce, it can make arranging custody more difficult for the child to cope with.
4. Tell Your Children Together
Not playing the blame game isn’t the only way you and your spouse should keep a united front. It’s also a good idea to break the news to your children together, such as during a family meeting. Telling your children about the divorce together will make the divorce a shared decision, which will also prevent children from blaming either parent for breaking the family up.
Telling different-age children about the divorce together will also lessen the burden on older children, who may have a better idea of how a divorce might directly affect them. Additionally, breaking the news to all children at the same time will allow you to answer questions and help children understand how life will be different when the divorce is finalized.
5. Pick a Good Time
You and your spouse will also want to pick a good time to break the news. Telling children about a divorce can be upsetting, so it’s important to pick a date and time that will give your child enough time to process the news. For example, telling children about a divorce before school, before a big test, or before sports practices or games would be a bad idea.
Telling children about a divorce early on a weekend, however, would give the child enough time to process the news and ask questions about how this life change will affect them. Children may feel some grief about the loss of the family structure, so having enough time to digest the news will make the process much more peaceful.
6. Keep Your Answers Simple
When it’s time to answer questions your child may have, it’s important to keep your answers as simple as possible. Don’t operate in the realm of “would and could” – any answer you give your children should already be previously agreed by both spouses. If you don’t have an answer to a question, tell your child that you don’t know yet, but don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
7. Tell Them About What Won’t Change
Divorce can mean a lot of changes for children to cope with, so it can be comforting to know what won’t be changing because of the divorce. For example, how much your love your children won’t change because of the divorce. Other constants might be where they will go to school, how often both parents will be at sporting events, or special bonding moments children may have with either parent. Reminding children of these constants can make the news easier to process.
Getting a divorce is a tough life decision that affects more than you and your spouse. If you have children, then breaking the news about your divorce should be handled thoughtfully for the sake of the children. Tips like preparing in advance, keeping your answers simple, and showing a united blame-free font can make the conversation easier. For more information about filing for divorce, please contact the divorce attorneys at Skillern Firm in Houston, TX today.