Top Nine Things to do Before the Divorce

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One of the best things parents can do for the children is to actually plan the divorce before speaking to the kids.

First, be absolutely certain that the divorce or separation is actually going to happen before you tell the kids. Try to confer with the other parent and for the sake of your children, put aside hurt and angry feelings. Make decisions together about the details you will need to tell your children. If you do not have this conversation beforehand, you may end up having it in front of, or worse, through your kids. Sometimes mediators help if the parents cannot communicate and are about to go to war. (The content of this conversation and the agreements precipitated likely will form the backbone of later court orders. Think carefully. )Then, think about how much advanced warning your child will need once he or she knows what is coming. There is no magic formula, but as parents, you know more about your child’s emotional maturity than anyone else. If you have an older child, talk to him or her at least a month before you and your soon-to-be-ex begin living apart. Toddlers don’t need as much time so parents can wait until a week or two before introducing any big changes. Little children have little sense of time. All children need to know is that they are safe and will be well taken care of, so if parents presage upcoming changes with this kind of promise, even if they can’t yet understand the precise meaning of your words, children will take the news better if their basic needs are met. When parents finally settle on a course of action, they will need to actually sit down and tell the child(ren). Before doing so, consider the following points:

  1. Try to have both parents present for the discussion. Timing may or may not play a role. However, assuming it is, pick a relaxed time of day, when there are no impending commitments.
  2. Use simple language. Be straightforward. Acknowledge that it’s a sad situation and that your child is likely to experience big, painful feelings.
  3. Allow your child to cry, become angry, or have other natural reactions.
  4. Have empathy and be sensitive. Show your children some of your feelings. The trick is to be congruent (genuinely showing some of the parent’s real feelings) while not over doing it in front of the children.
  5. Process, do not vent. Children need to know the parents will still take care of them and are not compromised, but at the same time children need to know they can emote and that parents will accept their feelings, even if the children get mad at them. Stay calm if this is possible. Kids will take their cue from your demeanor.
  6. Let kids know that you and your ex-partner love them and will keep them safe, whether you’re together or not.
  7. Give the children general reasons for the split-up.
  8. Be clear about general and some specific expectations. For example, talk about the new living arrangements or visitation schedules, if known. Who is going to live, where? Is anyone leaving the home?
  9. Avoid blaming the other parent even if one parent really thinks the other was the cause. Now is the time to present a “unified front” to the children. Children need some transition time and later will ask much deeper and more extensive questions about why the parents are separating. Don’t share adult problems with a child. Stay with the children until their first round of reactions and questions are exhausted.
Steven Griggs (1)

Steven T. Griggs, PhD

Private Practice since 1984.
National Register Credentialed since 1986
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