Kids and Divorce

    How and When to Talk About It

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    Divorce is never easy. When parents divorce, a major concern is: How will this affect the children?

    Each family is unique, and the answer to that question will depend on the age of the children and the family dynamics. Generally, it is best for parents to tell the children together, and only after they are reasonably sure about when and how the separation will take place. In advance of this announcement, parents want to consider what kind of reaction and questions are likely to come from their children. Some parents meet with a therapist or life coach before talking with their children to develop a parenting plan.

    It’s reasonable to expect that children whose parents are separating or divorcing will be concerned about how it is going to affect their lives – their friends, their activities, and their stuff. To simplify it, children need to understand what is going to change, and what is going to stay the same. They wonder about fundamentals, like where they will live, and how they are going to see each parent.

    And yes, they will have questions about fault and who is to blame. They may wonder, If my parents have stopped loving each other, does that mean they may stop loving me? Children may or may not be willing or able to articulate these questions or their feelings. Divorcing parents are caught between their own concerns and emotions and those of their children. Throughout what can be a painful process, parents who listen to their children, acknowledge and respect their concerns, and reassure them that they are loved and taken care of will have the greatest success during this life transition.

    How the children adjust to the divorce usually depends on how well the parents (and sometimes their extended families) handle a break-up. Parents who focus on blaming the other parent and allow themselves to fall apart make it very hard for the children to adjust. On the other hand, parents who reserve the adult issues for the adults, who keep the children out of the middle, and give them permission to continue to love each parent usually have children who handle the separation well.

    Engaging in high-contest divorce activity almost guarantees that the children will be damaged in the process (as will their parents). While the legal divorce process is never pleasant, the cost and the emotional damage can be contained if both parents accept the divorce, stay communicative, voluntarily exchange information, and develop an agreement that will work for everyone concerned.

    Parenting issues that need to be resolved in a divorce agreement include: who will live where; what role each parent will play in the children’s lives; how and when the children will spend time with each parent; what will happen to the existing assets (including the house, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.) and to existing debts; whether there will be child support and how much; and whether there will be spousal support. Parents should work hard to not involve their children in such matters, and should seek professional assistance as needed from divorce attorneys committed to helping them reach an agreement, and also from mediators, divorce financial planners, CPAs, parenting or divorce coaches, or therapists.

    If your primary concern is the well-being of your children, both of you need to talk, cooperate, forgive, and find a way to put your children’s needs above all else.

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    Phoebe Hall
    Phoebe P. Hall is an elder law, estate planning, and family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1969. She is CEO of Hall & Hall, PLC and sits on the board of visitors for Virginia Commonwealth University. A Richmond resident, she has two children and three granddaughters.