How to Tell Your Children That You Are Getting a Divorce
When New Jersey parents decide to divorce, they may be most concerned about how their children will be affected. Even when both parents are able to work together to negotiate a divorce settlement, they may want to protect their children from emotional harm. By planning for the conversation and working together, parents can reassure their children of their love, even during a difficult or emotional conversation.
Make a Plan in Advance
You can best navigate an awkward situation by making a plan for how you would like the divorce conversation to proceed. It is best if both of you can come to an agreement and do this together. After all, divorcing parents will soon have to work together on a range of complex and emotionally thorny issues, including child custody, exchanges and making decisions together in the best interests of the children. Having the divorce conversation together in a planned manner can provide some practice for the decisions to come later down the road.
In some cases, where it is more difficult for spouses to communicate clearly with one another to make a plan, it may make sense to work with your family law attorney or a counselor to develop the plan together. When you decide to tell your children, keep timing in mind. You do not want to wait too long to give your children this information. After all, the longer you wait, there is a chance that that they may hear it from another adult or discover evidence of it in the house, leading to an even more difficult confrontation or feelings of mistrust. Outside of circumstances where it may be necessary — such as a large age gap when one child is a toddler and the others are teens — it is best to tell all the kids at the same time.
It is important that your kids feel safe expressing their emotions in the moment. This means that you and your spouse should not blurt out the news when you are upset or angry but instead plan to tell them in a calm manner. Your divorce attorney can provide you with advice about how to move forward.
It is best to tell the children on a day that allows for some time and space, such as a weekend without extensive plans when people have had rest and are well-fed. Telling the kids right before school, bedtime or another event will not give them the time they need to process the news. In addition, keep special days in mind: Avoid holidays and birthdays for sharing this information in order to avoid associating those days with the divorce news.
Avoid Litigating the Divorce With Your Kids
You may work with your New Jersey family law attorney to pursue your case in court, or you may talk with a counselor to process your feelings about the divorce. However, even though the marriage may be ending, both you and your spouse will need to remain co-parents for years to come. While you may be upset or angry about the circumstances leading to the divorce, it is important to protect your kids from these feelings as much as possible.
Children of parents going through a contentious divorce may feel as if they are being forced to choose sides between their parents. However, it is important that kids do not feel that they should have an allegiance to one parent. It is less helpful to give your children all the gritty details of your divorce than it is to provide them with reassurance that both of their parents love them and value their close parent-child bond.
Whenever possible, both parties should present the divorce as a collective decision, using the word “we.” This can help kids to avoid feeling as if they are being forced to make a judgment on the divorce. They should not feel like judges or mediators in a family court; instead, they should feel like children who are part of an important family discussion. Keep the details of your divorce and your anger for your adult friends, your divorce lawyer or a mental health professional; when it comes to the kids, their emotions have to come first.
Of course, this does not mean refusing to provide any information to your children. They should feel that they can come to both of you for an honest conversation. While it can be best to not share the most intimate of details, you and your spouse should have a general explanation that you provide to your children about why you are deciding to divorce. You can adjust this explanation based on the ages and experiences of your children; an older teenager can handle information differently than an elementary schooler.
Give Your Children the Information That They Need
Of course, a divorce doesn’t just affect you and your spouse — it will affect the kids and their lives. Child custody decisions will have a major impact on how and where they live, how they can plan their school activities and how they conduct their social lives. While some of these matters may not be entirely decided when you decide to tell your children about the divorce, you can be as open as possible about these matters. Unlike the intimate details of your marital disputes, these issues directly concern the children’s own lives and futures.
Both parents may discuss this matter with their respective family lawyers before talking to the kids or develop a general view of their future custody decisions and parenting plans. There may be some choices that the children will make for themselves, depending on their age and relationship with both parents. When one parent will leave the home and the other parent will remain, it is important to give the kids the information they need and allow them to be involved in the process. The divorce does not change the fact that everyone involved is still a family, even when the family is living in different spaces.
If you have already decided on a custody and parenting schedule with your divorce attorneys, give that information to the kids as soon as possible, and let them know about the things that are still yet to be decided. It can also be important that both parents reassure the kids that their activities, sports, school and social relationships are very important when making these decisions.
Children May Need Space and Time
One of the most important aspects of the conversation is providing emotional reassurance to the kids. The divorce is not about them, and nothing they could have done or will do could change the decision. Reassuring the kids of your love and commitment is critical. At the same time, it is important to remain honest and avoid false promises, such as that they will never have to move or that their lifestyle will not change. The practical and financial changes that come with divorce may mean some aspects of everyone’s lifestyle may be different, but the emotional core of the relationship is key.
Children may have an array of reactions to the news. Some kids may feel angry or hurt while others may seem to shut down and show no emotional reaction at all. Your calmness about the situation can help to affect how kids deal with the news they are given. Again, this conversation is about prioritizing the children’s reactions while the parents may be best placed to share their own emotional pain and challenges with their family lawyer, close friend or counselor.
Like any major news, children may need time to adjust to this new information. Divorce can be a period of intense change, but with emotional reassurance and a commitment to co-parenting, parents can help their children navigate this period in an emotionally healthy manner.
Contact a New Jersey Divorce Attorney
Parents who are ending their marriage may have many questions about the process. Contact a divorce lawyer at Lawrence Law by calling us at 908-645-1000. Alternatively, you can use our online form to request an initial consultation.