Divorce can be particularly complicated when children are involved. Informing your child or children about divorce is a difficult task. According to Kids Health, an online guide for children with divorcing parents, it is common for a child’s feelings to be hurt when one parent decides to live somewhere else.
In some cases, children may have mixed feelings about divorce, especially if they have witnessed conflict between their parents. If the parents regularly argue, some children may even feel relieved after learning about a divorce. Whatever the situation, there are several important guidelines to follow when informing children about the decision to divorce.
Simplicity, truth and emotional comfort are essential
The Huffington Post reports that key themes to remember include:
- Emotional readiness and comfort
First, do not tell children anything about the divorce until the decision is final. Ideally children should not be told until a divorce agreement is signed and one spouse is prepared to move out. However, this is not always possible. The most important thing to remember is that children should not be told until both spouses agree that the time is right and both are emotionally ready to deal with the children’s reaction.
Once the time is right, remember to let children know that they are not the cause of the divorce. It is best to give an outside reason for the divorce that does not involve the children, but also a reason that does not cast a negative light on either parent. Put aside any internal feelings regarding the divorce and stress the fact that no one in the family is to blame.
A strong support system and the mediation option
A support system is especially important during this time. When breaking the news to children, it is best to have a trusted friend or relative available for children with whom to talk. Some children may require counseling to deal with their emotions. Also, it may be helpful to inform the children’s teachers or guidance counselors about the situation, as they can be valuable resources for the children and the parents.
It is also crucial to watch for any changes in children’s behavior. Children may attempt to behave perfectly, hoping that their parents will get back together. They may also begin acting out or behaving poorly, hoping that this will force their parents to talk to each other. It is important to inform children that since they did not cause the divorce, they also cannot make their parents reconcile.
Finally, keep emotions under control throughout the entire process and appear calm. Children may mimic adults’ behavior, and if an adult appears distressed or anxious, children may feel this way as well. Children should not be involved in any conversations related to the divorce proceedings, unless you are advised by your attorney to engage in conversation with the children.
Most families will be able to resolve disputes is through the mediation process. Mediation offers an option that is private and is one way to keep the issue off of the public record. The use of mediation to get a third party’s perspective may go a long way in preserving relationships, often to the benefit of the children. Children should not participate in the mediation process unless requested by the neutral, third-party mediator. It’s important to note that in some cases mediation will be required by the court. Though effective, mediation does not always meet the needs of a parent and, in those cases, litigation may be the next step.
An individual going through a divorce could benefit by speaking with an experienced family law attorney. A qualified attorney can be a valuable advisor during this difficult time and help families work through challenges involving children and other conflicts.