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How to Tell Your Kids You’re Filing for a Separation or Divorce

What to Say and Not to Say When Telling Your Kids

What is the best way to tell your kids you’re getting divorced or separated? If possible, you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse should have a conversation concerning when you want to tell the kids as well as what you plan to tell them. You may even consider having the conversation with them together, presenting a united front—as this can help reinforce that you are still a family. Even if you cannot have a conversation with them together, discussing what you plan to share is important.

When you have the conversation with your child, you should:

  • Tell them the truth. While you are entitled to your privacy, they will likely want to know why you are divorcing. Giving them a brief, age-appropriate answer can help clarify the situation.
  • Remind them that you love them. Your children, especially those that are younger, need this reassurance. Without this reminder, they may fear that you can or have fallen out of love with them as well.
  • Prepare them for changes. Things will be different; explain what exactly will be different and how so they won’t feel completely blindsided when confronted with change.
  • Point out what won’t change. While your routines and norms will change, some things may not change. If dad is still doing bath time or mom is still doing after-school pickups, point out the unchanging routines.
  • Listen. Leave space and time for your children to express their emotions and react to the news. If they do not have the words for their feelings, you can help them and encourage them to talk out what they are feeling.
  • Avoid placing blame. As we said, being a united front is important, and even if you can’t be united, you should show some restraint when discussing the other party. That is still their parent and placing blame can impact your child more so than the other parent.
  • Avoid arguing. Arguing can make your child feel like they have to choose sides, act as a mediator, and/or isolate.

How Much Information Is Too Much Information?

There’s no exact answer to how much or how little you should share with your children concerning your divorce. In planning how and what you will share, you should be age aware. Your child’s development age and maturity level can impact how much information and detail they can handle. Here are some age-based considerations that may influence how much you tell them.

  • Young children may not fully grasp the finality of the situation and their parent’s ability to still love them if they fell out of love with each other. When you break the news to them, you should incorporate language that reinforces that this is permanent and that reminds them that your love for them for constant and unchanged.
  • Grade-school children may not understand that they are not to blame; they can also struggle with fantasies of reconciliation and processing their emotions. When you tell them you are getting divorced, clearly express your emotions (i.e. sorrow, loss of control, frustration, etc.) so that they have an example of how to process their emotions aloud. You may also consider discussing coping strategies that you use or have heard of that help you express your emotions (outside of voicing them).
  • Teens may struggle against parental authority because of feelings of resentment or frustration. In telling them of your divorce, you should remind them that you don’t want to hide or suppress their emotions, and you should set boundaries for what behaviors and forms of expression will and won’t be accepted.
  • Adult children may not be able to maintain healthy boundaries with their parents concerning what they are willing to discuss, and they may not struggle to trust their happy childhood memories. When you tell them, try to avoid oversharing negative details or problems that have been persistent for years, and don’t tarnish any of their old memories.

Additional Considerations for Adult Children

Be sensitive to the feelings of your adult children. Even though you do not have to worry about child custody or visitation if they are adults, you should still worry about their emotional health during and after your divorce.

Adult children can struggle with their parents’ divorce just as much as minor children—if not more. You may have been together for their entire lives, and even if you weren’t, your separation can impact their:

  • Sense of normalcy and control
  • Worldview concerning relationships and romance
  • Views of the past, especially their childhood
  • View of their relationship with their parents (if they feel like you’ve been lying to them)
  • Emotional and mental health

Getting Divorced? Get Legal Help.

At William Kirby Law, Family Law Attorneys, we exclusively practice family law, and our legal team is dedicated to helping families navigate this tough season of their lives as efficiently and peacefully as possible. We have offices in New Jersey (Moorestown) and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), and we are here to help you file for divorce, prepare for divorce mediation, or handle divorce-related matters, such as child custody, child support, and spousal support.

To learn more about our services or schedule a consultation, contact us online or at (215) 515-9901 today.