What to Tell Children During Divorce / by Cassandra Hearn

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Divorce presents a time of difficulty, upheaval, and often chaos for the entire family.  This is especially true for the children, as they have little to no control over the situation, and children, in general, thrive on stability.  Communication can really help children through the difficulties associated with divorce and separation.  Parents should consider what would benefit the children to know as the process goes forward.

One thing that parents should do is make sure to tell the truth to the children in a way that they can understand.  For example, a sixteen-year-old is going to have a much better grasp of what “divorce” really means than a four-year-old will.  Parents should use age appropriate language and concepts, making sure to emphasize that the divorce was an adult decision that is in no way based on the child and his behavior.

Parents should also explain the visitation and custody schedule with the children after the court has made an order as to what the visitation will be.  It will in no way benefit a child to be uncertain about where he or she will spend the night or the weekend.  Parents should be as forthcoming as possible to reassure the child what the future holds.  Especially with young children, creating a color-coded calendar to help them be able to see what days which parent will be having their parenting time can help establish a sense of permanency and stability.  In general, any type of disclosure or discussion that will promote the child’s feeling of stability and continuing to feel loved is a positive discussion that should be had, whereas conversations about the child’s visitation preference, or involving the child in a custody disagreement is harmful.

Parents should never take it upon themselves to “air dirty laundry” to the children.  It will not benefit the child or the custody argument to disclose to the child the adult reasons behind the divorce or separation.  Moreover, continued insistence on sharing this type of information with the child could result in an adverse custody or visitation order from the judge.  The best interest of the children considerations will include who is willing to promote the relationship between the child and the other parent; trying to make inappropriate disclosures to the children about who did what wrong and what caused the divorce can be a factor in deciding that the parent is not willing to foster that relationship between the child and the other parent.

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