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Divorce and Children: How to Discuss Divorce with Your Children

Divorce proceedings necessarily are challenging and oftentimes emotionally charged legal matters. The end of a marriage becomes all the more difficult when children are involved. If you are heading towards an end to your marriage, one task ahead you likely are dreading is discussing divorce with your children. Five elements of effectively discussing divorce with your children warrant consideration:

  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Reach out to your children with your spouse
  • Affirm that the end of the marriage is not your children's fault
  • Honestly answer any questions raised by your children
  • Allow your children space to express their emotions
Use Age-Appropriate Language

A vital aspect of discussing divorce with your children is to utilize age-appropriate language. Simply put, the manner in which you discuss divorce with an elementary school child differs from how you address the subject with a young person in high school.

This may mean you can sit down and discuss a pending divorce with all of your children at one time. However, depending on the age differences between them, you may need to have separate sit-downs based on their age and emotional maturity levels.

Reach Out to Your Children with Your Spouse

In an ideal world - and the situation surrounding a pending divorce certainly may not meet the definition of "ideal - both parents sit down together to discuss the pending marriage dissolution with the children. If jointly discussing divorce with the children is impossible, each parent should take time with the children to address the situation individually. These individual sessions should be closely connected to one another in time. It is absolutely crucial that a parent not "bad mouth" or blame the other parent during when sitting down with a child or children.

Affirm that the End of the Marriage is Not Your Children's Fault

It's something of a cliché for divorcing parents to be reminded that they need to tell their children that the end of a marriage is not their fault. The reality is that many times children to feel a sense of guilt or responsibility - misplaced though it may be - for somehow causing the demise of their parent's marriage.

Parents must be very direct in making it clear to their children that they are in no way responsible for the divorce. (Making this point is one reason why it is helpful for both parents to sit down with their children together, if at all possible.)

Honestly Answer Any Questions Raised by Your Children

Your children may have immediate questions about the divorce at the time you discuss the subject with them for the first time. You need to be prepared to answer these questions openly and honestly.

Bear in mind that your children may state that they have no questions when you meet with them the first time to discuss a pending divorce. The reality is that they may have questions, but don't know quite how to raise them at that time.

In addition, they may come up with questions at a later time. If that is the case, you need to be available to answer their questions as the divorce moves forward, also in an open and honest manner.

Allow Your Children Space to Express Their Emotions

When children learn that their parents are divorcing, they can express what proves to be a wide range of emotions. Anger, sadness, disbelief are common emotional responses (to name a few).

After advising your children that your marriage is coming to an end, do not tell them how they should feel, with one caveat already discussed. Make clear that you children should not feel guilty or responsible for the end of your marriage.

Beyond that, you need to allow you children to emotionally respond and process to your divorce in their own way. You certainly want to be supportive of them as they work through learning of your divorce and experience the emotions associated with this change in your family structure.

Bear in mind that there are some instances when children have a particularly difficult time emotionally coming to terms with the end of their parents' marriage. If that proves to be the situation in your family, proactively consider obtaining professional supportive assistance for your child.

There exists an array of resources that can assist parents in emotionally supporting their children before, during, and after divorce proceedings. As a matter of routine, an experienced divorce attorney maintains information about how to access these types of resources and services. If you have a question concerning divorce and children, contact the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free initial consultation.

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