When marriages go south, parents are often so focused on their anger at their spouse and their personal frustrations that it can be easy to forget how hard a divorce can be on children. Parents who are focusing on their internal problems can fail to realize that kids are often fully aware that something in very wrong between their parents. At some point, maybe when you first see your family lawyer, or maybe when you file or receive the divorce complaint, you know you have to tell your kids that Mom and Dad will be leading separate lives.
When you should explain your divorce, what you should tell your kids, and how much they need to know are very difficult questions. There are no 100% clear answers. A lot depends on the ages of your children, how amicable the divorce is, the reasons for the divorce, and a host of other issues. Fortunately, there are guidelines and practical suggestions that can help parents communicate with their children.
Balance truth with protection
Psychology Today argues that children do need to know certain basic truths but that all the details may not be necessary. They focus on the following considerations.
- They need the facts that pertain to their own lives. Children will need to know where they will live, which parents will be taking care of them, when they will spend with the other parent, where they will attend school, and other basic information.
- Your job is to protect your child. Still, there are some balances. There are some truths that may hurt the child and may be worth exploring after the divorce is final and the child is more emotionally ready to receive these truths. For example, it can be hard for a child to learn a parent has had an affair, that a parent is an alcoholic, or that the child’s folks haven’t been intimate for 10 years. Some truths can be layered with time. This means the child can be told a divorce is happening and the parents just don’t love each other, leaving the reasons why for future conversations if needed.
- Some truths need to be addressed immediately. If a parent is abusive, if a parent is squandering the family resources so there’s no money for more clothes, if a parent is so out of control that a court hearing must be held to force the parent out of the home – those truths normally need to be explained to the child – especially if the child will be called to testify in court.
MyDomaine, a publication that focuses on health and wellness in the home, suggests that:
- Parents try to agree on overall approach. The reason for the divorce should be clear to the child. Too many confusing details and too much detail can overwhelm the child.
- Try not to disparage the other parent. In extreme cases, such as abuse, the child needs to know the other parent needs help or isn’t acting as a parent should. In many cases, the parents need to understand that what’s normally best for the child is to have two parents who can put aside their differences to do what is best for the child.
- Do encourage your children to ask questions. Children, especially older children, need to hear about the family dynamics from their parents and not from aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers. Many older children will talk to other children who have gone through divorce. While parents need to weigh how much detail to give their children, they should make clear the parents are the first resource for information about the breakup of the marriage.
In some cases, it may be advisable for the children to speak to a psychologist who can act as a neutral adult counselor for a child of divorce.
We’ve written previously about preparing a child for divorce. Some of the preparation steps parents should consider are:
- Children should understand that the divorce is not their fault
- Children should understand that sometimes change is for the best
- Kids need to know they will be safe
- Children need to understand that eventually things will work out
- Kids need to understand they are loved
At LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville family lawyers understand how difficult divorce is on everyone, especially children. We work to negotiate agreements through competent negotiation with opposing counsel, through mediation, and other formal hearing alternatives. Trials are usually a last resort. We work with psychologists and parent support groups who understand the unique stresses of divorce. To discuss all your needs and your children’s needs, call our caring Knoxville family law attorneys at (865) 637-6258 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.