New Jersey parents who decide to divorce may worry about how best to inform their children. Even if the parents have been arguing or experiencing a very difficult relationship for some time, it can come as a shock to the kids if their parents decide to end their marriage. While this discussion will almost always be challenging, there are some points that can help parents to navigate this conversation while helping their children feel supported and loved.
When you tell your children about the divorce, don’t let the information slip in a moment of anger or exhaustion. Even more, don’t tell your children about the divorce alone, as just one parent. If you and your spouse are capable of talking together with the children, this is an important step to show that you will both be there for the kids in the future. While there may be situations in which both parents cannot talk to the kids together, such as in cases of domestic abuse, a joint conversation is important wherever possible.
In the months to come, you and your spouse will have many topics to negotiate with your New Jersey divorce lawyers. In addition, you and your spouse will need to transform your relationship as a married couple into that of a divorcing couple and then to your new connection, co-parenting. Planning for the divorce discussion with the children can be a step towards preparing for how you will discuss other difficult topics with the children in the future.
You can consult with professionals, like your family law attorney or a counselor, to help you plan the discussion with the kids. Make a plan to sit down as a family for the conversation on a day where people have time, like a weekend. Don’t tell the kids right before they are going to school or out to play a competitive game, and don’t associate the divorce announcement with a particular holiday, wherever possible. You want to give the kids time and space to feel their emotions and ask their questions, not hurry them along to their next task.
In all cases, it is important to talk to the kids calmly and without anger. There is a reason why shouted divorce announcements are almost a trope in family dramas in TV and movies. Finding out this way can be traumatic for children and make them feel torn between their parents. A calm, planned discussion may not eliminate pain or anger, but it can help the children feel a safer environment to express themselves and a greater sense of security.
A discussion with the children is not an appearance in front of the family court. Rather than being the end of a marriage, it can be considered the first step of your new co-parenting relationship. Divorcing parents will need to remain connected in the future for the sake of their children and interact with each other as positively as possible.
One parent should not tell the children separately from the other, again, except in cases of violence or other forms of abuse. A New Jersey family lawyer can even help parents to agree upon the topics that they will discuss when talking with their children. As the parents in the room, you cannot escape your emotions, but you can save them for a time and place where the children are not exposed to a higher level of conflict between their parents.
When both parents sit down together for the divorce discussion with the children, they will see and feel that both parents will continue to be with them after the divorce, even if they can no longer be with one another. In addition, one parent telling the kids alone may make the kids feel that they have to choose a “side” in the divorce.
While you want to have a family discussion, this can be a challenge if the kids range in age significantly. It is best to tell all the kids together to avoid an unplanned “leak,” but you can have a separate sit-down with the older children or teens who will have different types of concerns than small children.
If you have stepchildren or a blended family, the right choice may be more challenging. The biological parent may tell them one-on-one, or, if the blended family has been together for many years, it may be best to have a joint conversation.
Parents should focus on the well-being of the kids. As you know, this means ensuring the kids do not need to feel that they should take sides between their parents. When you have this discussion, keep the conversation simple and speak as “we” whenever possible.
Your kids do not need to know the intimate details of your marriage and why it is ending. You do not need to share all the information that you do with your divorce attorney or counselor with your children. Even if you see the divorce as one party’s “fault,” the kids should not be made to feel as if they have to choose between loyalty to either parent.
Of course, once again, this advice is complicated in situations of abuse, and parents should not feel compelled to excuse an abuser or work together with them. However, in most divorces, parents will need to co-parent together moving forward, and using general descriptions of the divorce can help to protect children from intimate information that they do not need.
Of course, the kids may have questions about why the divorce is taking place. They may be unsatisfied with vague answers and want more of an explanation. While you may want to plan for family counseling or therapy for the children to discuss more complex issues, it is fine to affirm that you are unhappy together or need changes in your life. It is important to repeatedly ensure them that the divorce has nothing to do with them and that they loved by both parents.
The kids won’t just be concerned about your emotional life or the practical issues that you discuss with your family law attorney. They may be most worried about what will happen to them. They may want to know which parent will leave the home, whether they will have to move and how shared custody will work. You may still have a lot of negotiation with your divorce lawyers to develop a parenting plan, but you can share the information you already have. Make sure to emphasize that you are working to minimize disruption and keep them connected to their school, friends and extracurricular activities. Even more, make it clear that you will both be there for them always, even if you no longer share one living space.
Tell the kids which parent will be moving out of the home and bring them to the parent’s new living space, including the space for them. Kids should feel like both of their parents’ homes are fully theirs. You can allow them to have input on the new space, especially their own rooms and areas. This is another form of reassurance that the parents will remain focused on the children. Some kids, especially younger children, may feel they are to blame for the divorce, especially if the parents have had previous conflict over parenting issues. By keeping the discussion mutual, reassuring and loving toward the children, parents can help to protect their emotional health.
Of course, the divorce discussion with children will almost always be complex. Kids may be angry, upset or withdrawn, and these normal reactions may worry parents. Professionals like family lawyers and counselors can advise you about how to move forward and protect your children as you divorce.
If you are thinking about how to handle co-parenting issues, including child custody and parenting plans during your divorce, a family law attorney may provide guidance and representation for you throughout the process. Contact the experienced New Jersey divorce attorneys at Lawrence Law by calling 908-645-1000 or by submitting our online form for a consultation at our Red Bank or Watchung, New Jersey, office.