How Do I Talk to my Children about Separation and Divorce

Telling your children that you and their father or mother are separating can be one of the most difficult discussions you will ever have with your children. The way you handle this announcement can impact your children for the rest of their lives. Before you speak to your children about this life-changing event, these suggestions can help you plan how and what to tell your children.

When and Where to Discuss Divorce with Your Children

  • Unless there are issues of domestic violence that require immediate action, your children deserve to be told about the decision to separate before it happens.
  • If possible, include your spouse in the discussion with the children. If that is not possible, try to at least coordinate with your spouse what each of you will tell the children. Talking separately to your children can lead to giving them conflicting information and a united front is preferable in providing such life-changing information.
  • Consider telling the children about the decision to separate at a location other than the family residence, such as a park or ice cream shop. By telling your children not at home, they won’t associate a specific room in their home with what is often a negative memory.

What to Tell Your Children About Your Decision to Divorce

  • Be prepared for their tears, their anger, their accusations and their questions about who is “at fault’ for causing the separation. Be respectful of your children’s questions, but remember that is okay to remind your children that they are children, and there are some answers to their questions that you cannot answer at this time because they are still children and that information is for adults. 
  • Remind the children that they are not the cause of the separation; that the decision to separate is an adult decision made by the parents. 
  • If you and your spouse have already decided on a custody schedule, explain to the children what the schedule will look like and where they will be living, with whom and when. If a new residence for you and/or your spouse is already available, schedule a time with the children to view or tour the new residence.
  • Do not blame the other parent for the separation, even if you have a good basis for casting that blame. Keep adult details to yourself. Your children likely love both of you and do not want to be put in the middle. Explain that there are adult reasons that led to the separation, that they do not need to worry about those reasons now,  and that they need to focus on how much each parent loves and cares for them.

How to Support Your Children During Separation

  • Offer lots of love and reassurance. Explain to them that even if you and your spouse will no longer remain together as spouses, you will both forever be their parents.
  • Give your children a chance to voice their fear, sadness, anger, and frustration. Acknowledge their feelings and respond with reassurances that you and your spouse will do everything possible to make this new path in your family life as stress-free for them as possible.
  • Consider consulting a child therapist in advance, preferably with your spouse, about ways to talk to your children about the decision to separate. If any of your children are already in therapy, talk to his or her therapist in advance of the announcement to separate to get the therapist’s guidance on special concerns of which to be aware when informing that particular child of your decision.

While the decision to separate or divorce is often a difficult conversation, by handling it with enough forethought, you can set up your divorce and future relationship with your child’s other parent to be as agreeable of a divorce as possible.         

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About the Author

Robin J. Stinson

Robin Stinson, a board-certified Family Law Specialist, focuses her practice on all areas of family law and dispute resolution, including complex marital estates and financial issues in equitable distribution, alimony and child support cases.
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