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Here’s How to Tell Your Children You’re Splitting

To make that talk less painful, here are 10 expert tips for setting the stage for your new life together as a family.

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If your parents divorced, you probably remember very clearly the big conversation, where one or both told you they had decided to splitand that decision most likely rocked your world for a while.

So whether you’re a child of divorce yourself or went into marriage thinking “until death do us part,” you hoped you’d never have the divorce convo with your own kids.

Yet, here you are, due to the unique circumstances of your marriage.

To make that talk less painful, here are 10 expert tips for how to tell your children you’re splitting, and for setting the stage for your new life together as a family in the most positive way possible.

1 Don’t play the blame game. This should go without saying, but don’t discuss the adult details of your relationship with your children. They either won’t understand or will resent you if they do. This can also cause your kids to feel that they must take sides, which is detrimental to them and to your long-term relationship with them.  

2 Let the kids know they didn’t cause the split.

In addition, point to an external reason that the split’s occurring (“We’ve grown apart”), one the kids can process and live with as they transition into their new family structure. You and your spouse may have differing ideas about why the separation is occurring, so you’ll want to present the same story to your kids.

3 Don’t have the convo until you’re totally sure.

You and your spouse should have come to terms with the split in the best way you can, and both be ready to move forward with it. When you’ve reached that point, then hold the conversation with your kids. If you’re still waffling or having second thoughts, hold off.

We advise that you even wait until you have a signed divorce agreement with specified custody arrangements and one of you is ready to move out. However, sometimes one parent will move out after a domestic violence incident or a fight, so you’ll need to hold the conversation at that time.

4 Timing is everything.

Schedule the talk when both you and your soon-to-be-ex are emotionally able to support your kids, since they’ll experience a range of emotions once you share the news. If your child or children already see a counselor, schedule their next appointment for immediately after you’ve shared the news about your split.

5 Plan what you’ll say.

Work with your ex to craft specific messages that you’ll share with your kids during the conversation—and provide a unified front when you present those ideas, for example, that your kids will still see both parents as much as possible. However, don’t make any promises you can’t or won’t keep; for example, don’t say, “Nothing’s going to change.”

6 Steel your emotions.

Have the conversation when you’re able to keep your own emotions, whether tears or anger, in check. In addition, if you’re seeing a counselor, plan to meet with him or her to prep for the conversation.

7 Tell your family together.

Experts agree that it’s best to hold the divorce conversation with all your kids at the same time, and then follow up with each child separately.

However, if you’re concerned that one child’s emotional reaction will upset the others (for example, a school-age child will understand divorce much more so than a preschooler and will be more upset), then plan to hold the conversations separately, with a joint family session at the end.

8 Give them space to ask questions.

Your children will continue to process the news over time, so let them know you and your partner are both open to follow-up conversations and questions.

9 Give them space to emote.

Allow your children to express their feelings, whether through tears or venting. Keep an eye on their feelings in the weeks after your announcement to discern what additional support they may need.

10 Enlist outside help.

Let your kids know that you’re open to bringing in a counselor or other trusted third party to help support their needs—and you can attend the sessions with them if they’d like you to do so. Finally, it’s a good idea to let your school counselor or children’s teacher know that your family is undergoing some changes, so they can be on the lookout for unusual behaviors as well.

If you need help with a family law matter, our attorneys at Smedley Law Group can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.

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