For many parents, divorce or separation is one of the hardest choices to make, even when the choice is made to benefit your family. Divorce can be an especially difficult process for children. Though a divorce may be a healthier situation for children in the long term, it can still be confusing and upsetting for children to learn their parents are getting divorced.
Knowing how to break that news can be hard for parents. Parents likely have known a divorce was coming, while children may be completely unaware. Children will have unpredictable responses, and some may believe they were somehow at fault for the divorce. They will need love, support, and guidance during a divorce. Parents need to have a plan for explaining the situation to their children and ensuring kids know they are supported by both their parents.
Make a Plan First
If possible, work with your spouse to determine what you will tell your kids. It can be helpful for children when both parents are present, as long as parents are able to show a unified front. This shows your children that you are making this decision together.
Plan when the right time is to tell your kids. Sooner is better, once you know you’re getting a divorce. You want to give your children time to process their emotions, which they will have to do regardless of when you tell them.
Avoid telling kids the news before they go to bed, before school, or on important celebratory days. Your children will need time to talk with you about the situation, process their emotions, and spend time with close friends and family.
Tell All Your Children Together
If you and your spouse have more than one child, it’s beneficial to tell them all together. You might not give the same information to a young child that you would to an older child, so plan accordingly by having a more in-depth conversation with older children after telling your kids together.
It can be harmful to kids to hear the news from siblings rather than their parents. It’s important to never tell your children about a divorce before your spouse knows you have or are going to file.
Explain What Is and Isn’t Going to Change
Parents can get ahead of a lot of questions by telling children how the divorce is going to change their living situation. Explain if one parent is moving out soon, if there are any temporary custody plans during divorce, and what parent children will primarily be living with. Be honest about it, and be honest if you don’t know.
Also, explain what’s going to stay the same. If they are staying at the same school, living near certain friends, or remaining in the same activities, communicate that to them. This can give kids a better sense of stability during a tumultuous time.
Reassure Your Children and Give Them a Support System
Some kids may worry that they are responsible for a divorce. Reassure them that this is not the case, and make sure they know they can talk to you if they need anything. Children need your support during a divorce. Creating an additional support system can benefit kids emotionally and psychologically. A support system may include other family members, a group for other kids of divorce, or a social worker or other mental health professional.
Be prepared for a lot of questions after breaking the news. This may happen immediately, or it may take time. Let your children know that you can answer any questions, but let them come to you. They may wonder why you’re getting divorced or what life will look like in the future. You want to answer them honestly while remaining age-appropriate.
Give Your Children Time
Remember to be patient with your kids after giving them news of a divorce. It is never going to be easy, and every child will react differently. Give them the time they need to adjust and heal.
Q: What Should I Not Tell Kids During Divorce?
A: One of the most important things when telling your children about a divorce is to never say or imply that the divorce was their fault. Though this may seem obvious, it’s essential to reassure them and be sure they know this decision was not because of them in any way. Throughout a divorce, it’s important to remain honest with your kids without providing more information than is healthy. Be honest, but keep negative feelings about your spouse away from your kids.
Q: At What Age Does Divorce Affect a Child the Most?
A: Divorce affects kids of all ages and can even affect adult children. Younger children may be less likely to remember the event or life before divorce, so this can be easier on them in some ways. Older children or adults may be better equipped to understand the decision, recognize their own reaction to a divorce, or simply have a better support network. Elementary-school-aged children are considered to have the hardest time, as they remember the family system prior to divorce and are also dealing with difficult feelings of grief.
Q: Who Gets the Kids in a Divorce in Illinois?
A: Each parent has equal rights to their children during marriage and divorce. The court generally prefers equal parenting time, but this is not always possible due to parental schedules or other factors. In Illinois, legal custody refers to the parental right to make important decisions for their child, and physical custody refers to where a child will live. Each type of custody may be sole, or given to one parent, or it may be joint, meaning that parents split custody, although not always equally.
Q: Is Illinois a 50-50 Custody State?
A: Illinois does not automatically assign 50-50 custody, but a parenting plan could end up being 50-50 between parents. Custody is determined based on the child’s needs and interests, and the court will determine if parents can effectively co-parent on a 50-50 basis. The court prefers joint legal and physical custody when possible, as it believes that children should spend significant and meaningful time with each parent.
Contact Stange Law Firm
At Stange Law Firm, we want to help your family through this difficult time. If you need an experienced and compassionate divorce attorney for mediation or litigation, contact our team.