You and your spouse have decided to separate, and maybe you have already started to have discussions with one another about some of the financial or parenting issues that stem from the breakdown of your relationship. BUT, how are you going to break this news to your children?
Separation and divorce can be devastating and heartbreaking for parents and children alike; but if handled properly, they can result in a better quality of life for everyone involved (including children). After all, happy parents = happy children. And so, parents ought to consider and put thought into how they want to navigate these inevitable but very important conversations with their children.
Present a United Front
When sitting down with your children to talk to them about your separation and divorce, it is best that you and your spouse present a united front.
You may want to consider sitting down with the children together – as a family – to share with them the decision you and your spouse have come to regarding separation; and you may want to use this sit down as an opportunity for the children to share any feelings or fears they may have with both parents present.
You may also want to use this sit-down approach to share with your children any decisions you have made regarding living arrangements, the parenting schedule, etc.
When thinking about how to sit down with the children, you may want to consider having the sit down in a location that is comfortable and known to the children or neutral to both parents (i.e. the living room in the matrimonial home); and you may want to think of ways in which you can make the children more comfortable (i.e. cooking their favourite meal or ordering in their favourite take-out and ensuring that the family sit down and share a meal together after the difficult conversations).
Collaborating with your spouse may not be possible or workable in all situations. But, if you and your spouse can generally communicate with one another, you may want to seriously consider presenting a united front to the children because this will reassure your children, absolve the children of feeling like they have to pick sides, and make any transitions and changes a little easier on them.
Be Cognizant of the Children’s Ages and Maturities
You and your spouse most likely know your children better than anyone else. So, when thinking about how to talk to your children about separation or divorce, or about how to present them with the changes in living or parenting arrangements, it is imperative that you consider the children’s ages and maturity levels.
You may want to consider using age-appropriate language and examples; and may also want to consider providing ‘older’ children with options or the opportunity to have some input on certain issues (it could be something as simple as: would you prefer to have parenting spend time with one parent on Tuesday evenings or Wednesday evenings).
Children are smart and resilient, and they tend to pick up on things that we may not pay much attention to. And so, it is generally best to be open and honest (as appropriate) with them.
No matter the age of the children, you want to be very careful about how you frame things so as not to make them feel like they have to choose or pick sides.
Shield them from Conflict
No matter how civil and cordial you and your spouse endeavour to be, some conflict is inevitable. As you separate and start having difficult discussions about finances, parenting, etc., you and your spouse are likely going to find that you disagree about something – and this can often lead to some conflict or animosity.
While conflict may be inevitable, how you manage or deal with it does not have to be. It is best to be very conscious and deliberate about keeping children out and away from the conflict between you and your spouse; because there are certain things your children should not know or be exposed to.
Some very simple do’s and don’ts include: DO encourage your children to have a relationship with both parents; DO NOT fight or argue in front of the children or during parenting time exchanges; DO NOT blame the other parent or badmouth them in front of or around the children.
Consult with an Expert
If you are concerned about the impact a separation or divorce may have on your child – either on their physical or mental health and wellbeing – you may want to consider consulting with an expert (i.e. a child psychologist, pediatrician, social worker) or professional who knows the child well (i.e. the child’s guidance counsellor or teacher). The expert may be able to guide you on how best to communicate with your child, and they may be able to provide you with resources for yourself and your child regarding the best ways for navigating the impending changes.
Want to Know More?
At GDH Family Law, our team of divorce lawyers is equipped with the skills and tools that will best assist you and your family with navigating your separation and divorce. If you have questions about your children or your family law situation in general, please contact us or call us at 416-535-6944 to schedule a free initial consultation.