What to tell (and not tell) a child about a divorce

A divorce is a high-stress event that makes parenting more difficult than ever. A child may have many several reactions and emotions to a divorce, and putting that child's needs first is more important than ever. Parents know this, of course, but it can be difficult to know how to say and do the right things to ensure a child is emotionally stable and able to move on after the divorce.

Speaking to children when divorcing

It is important to speak to children about divorce as soon as plans are made concrete. If possible, the parents should have the discussion together, although certainly in situations of domestic abuse or highly contentious relationships this may not be possible. Make sure to discuss what will change in the children's lives, and what will not. Knowing the imminent living arrangements as soon as possible can ease a lot of a child's stress.

Honesty counts for a lot. While children should not be informed of every little detail, they should be allowed to have their questions answered truthfully about the divorce. If the topic is sensitive, simple, truthful but indistinct statements are best. The discussion should be age-appropriate to the child.

Children often believe themselves at fault for a divorce even after both parents have reassured them they both still love the child. It is important to reiterate this love time and again, and point out that while mom and dad are separating, the parent-child relationships will remain the same.

Interaction with the other parent

One of the most common mistakes by divorcing or newly divorced parents is disparaging the other parent in front of the children. When discussing the divorce, do not blame the other parent as this increases stress on children. It can also devolve the discussion into another fight, which is not what a child needs when receiving news about a divorce.

Experienced professionals can help

Often a good way to help with some of the more difficult aspects of a divorce is to get expert help. Divorce can be a complicated event when children are involved. For example, courts ultimately issue child custody and visitation according to what is in the best interests of the child. On face value this standard may seem simple, but individual state laws are complex regarding the numerous factors involved in resolving child custody and visitation. An experienced attorney can help ensure that the court obtains all relevant information to bring to the judge who is not so emotionally involved in the issue.

Financial advisors can also help. The financial ramifications of divorce last for a long time. And, importantly, people who are suffering from mental and emotional issues should get help from a counselor or psychologist.

Having professionals help with the divorce can allow a parent to focus on the parent-child relationship, rather than the details of the divorce. People contemplating divorce should speak with a compassionate, skilled family law attorney to discuss their steps moving forward.