In every initial consultation I have with a new client, I give them a lot of information. We talk about the law, about expectations for the process, different options, and cost. I give advice about the next steps for each client based on their circumstances, but if children are involved, I tend to have a different discussion altogether. If a person is contemplating divorce, or has been told by their spouse that they want a divorce, he or she is usually reeling from all of the different emotions. I try to provide a foundation for them and a step-by-step plan, but I can only speak to that parent. The children are usually left to their own devices. So in every initial consultation, I attempt to address how they are going to tell the children and how to navigate the beginning of the process as it relates to the children.
Many times they are contemplating if it would be better to just stay in the marriage “for the kids.” Generally, the answer is no. People that are in toxic marriages are generally in stressful situations that are obvious to the children. Kids these days are very intelligent, and very observant. They are usually aware that their parents are not getting along, are not happy, or in some cases, are indifferent toward each other. I usually ask if they would want their children assuming that is what a healthy marriage looks like and modeling that behavior in their own lives. Most of the time, the clients say no. I also suggest that if they want to try one last time, they seek out the assistance of a good marriage counselor.
After the decision is made to divorce, how do parents tell their children? There IS a wrong way to do that. Most of the time I find that children will damaged by how the parents treat each other rather than the divorce itself. It is very important to stay neutral and not blame the other parent (even if you really want to). Kids who are being told that their lives are changing do not need to be burdened at that time with all the reasons why. They will naturally love both parents, and parental alienation is by far the worst thing that happens in divorce cases. If they bring up problems they’ve observed with either parent, it’s best to acknowledge that problem and then say “Yes, but there were other factors too.” Don’t lie to the kids, but they don’t need to know all of the dirty laundry. Ideally, the two parents would tell the children together, or at least coordinate the discussion and agree upon how it will happen. Only share necessary information and provide some direction about their immediate future (daily activities, where they will be spending the night, etc). Children are naturally self-centered, especially younger ones, and will want to know immediately what is going to happen in their new world. Obviously, both parents should repeatedly assure the kids that it’s not their fault and that both parents still love them and will be there for them. I often refer people to the book “Mom’s House, Dad’s House” by Isolina Ricci.
It’s a good idea to meet with a lawyer to discuss all of your options for proceeding with a divorce before you finalize any plans. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, please contact our family law team.