Published on December 15, 2022

Telling your children about separation or getting a divorce will never be easy, but there are definitely things to consider before you have that particular discussion with them.

Here are some of our most important tips on how to tell your children about a divorce or court order:

• If possible, talk to your ex-partner and make sure you are both sharing the same information with your children;

• If possible, tell your children about your divorce at the same time. They need to hear it together so that they all are told the same thing in the same way. This will allow the children to ask questions and these can be addressed together;

• It is important that children are told as soon as possible to avoid the heartache of them finding out from others or older siblings;

• Most importantly be polite

and civil with your ex-partner while you are telling your children about your divorce. Show your children that you can be civil to each other despite the emotional situation you are going through.

Language

• If you have children of different ages, plan to share the basic information at the initial meeting and follow up with the older children during a separate conversation;

• It is important to agree in advance the language you will use, depending on the age of the child (there are storybooks available for younger children to help them to understand the change);

• Know the limits of what you think is suitable for them to hear and how much they will understand. Try not to say too much or justify why you have made this decision. Keep the information bitesize, allowing your child space to ask questions;

Tell your children where they will be living, with whom and those areas of their lives which may change such as school, friends, home and routine;

Tell them when, where and how often they will meet the non-resident parent;

Children need to understand that the decision to live apart is an adult decision and that they are not to blame;

Try to incorporate the word “we” when you’re explaining the decisions that have been made;

Reassure them that no matter what happens, and no matter where anyone lives, they will still be loved and cared for by both parents;

Make sure other significant adults are aware of the information shared with your children – children may ask others to check out if what they’ve been told is the truth.

When and where to tell your children

Timing is important – when both parents have enough time (preferably not a school day) allow a few hours to share the news to allow your children to process it and ask questions;

Consider an environment with which the children are familiar, possibly their main residence so that they have other spaces to go to if the situation becomes upsetting for them;

• Do not plan other activities after you have shared the information – the children may need time to absorb and talk through what you’ve just told them;

• Consider asking another significant adult (grandparent, uncle, aunt) who is close to the children to be present to offer support.

Even if one parent is not present, as we know that this can be quite a challenging and emotive situation, it is important the absent parent is told, possibly in writing, exactly what was said at the meeting.

Postscript. Issues arising out of divorce or separation can often prove stressful for the couple and other family members. This article written by Dylan Watkins GP offers a useful overview for those who may be struggling. Signposting to additional support and relevant organisations can be found in this link.

Claire Field is a contributor to the ‘Separating With Children 101’ (Bath Publishing, 2023).

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The Early Days Of Separation

Humans are designed to cope with many onslaughts, but change continues to prove extremely challenging. How you manage the early days of separation or divorce has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the process.

When couples separate, they are often thrown into a period of uncertainty. Identities are changing from couple to single, from mum and dad together as a family unit to mum with children and dad with children. Depending on the circumstances and who decides to leave the family home, there are many questions that arise during the early days of separation. “Will we have to sell our home?” “I haven’t worked since we had children – how will we manage financially?” “What will our friends and family think?” “How much will divorce cost?”
“Will I cope on my own?” There seems to be so much to sort out both practically and emotionally and it comes at a time when at least one of you will be ‘all over the place’ emotionally due to the loss you are experiencing. This can make decision-making seem impossible. Who wants to agree the practicalities of legal issues and more importantly organise the children when they are devastated, angry and confused by loss? It can turn otherwise rational, clear-thinking mums and dads into what appears to be belligerent, stubborn, unreasonable people.

Take Your Time!

In those early days of separation or divorce, take your time if you can. Seek support from friends, family and professionals. Try not to make any big decisions too quickly.
Bear in mind that communication problems with your ex and all the pressures on family life you are now experiencing, like for many separating couples, will get better with time. It’s important to recognise that you and your ex will more than likely be in very different emotional places at the moment; different stress levels and anxieties will be making communication difficult. Taking the time to sometimes do nothing, to not react, give things a day or two, can prove very useful techniques.
What you have to remember is that if you have children, your ex is always going to be part of your life. That can be hard to take on board when you are feeling hurt and angry. If you can find a way to communicate with each other that focuses on the children, you will all benefit in the years to come.

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