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How to Tell Your Kids You are Getting Divorced

Have you been worried about how to tell your kids you are getting divorced for a long time now? Did you stay in the marriage much longer than you wanted, because you were so frightened of what the news or changes might do to them? Have you put off telling them anything because you just don’t know what to say?

You are not alone. Every mother will tell you the thought of inflicting pain on your child is unbelievably excruciating, and it can even be paralyzing.

However, you’ve also realized that staying in an unhealthy environment isn’t sustainable for you and it’s certainly not good for the kids either.  Having two happy or happy-ish parents has to be better than two unhappy ones who live together, right? (Yes, we agree with you!)

Telling your children about your decision to divorce is not going to be easy…but with a few guidelines in place, it can be a lot less painful and may actually open the door to a healthier and improved, ongoing dialogue with your kids.

How to tell your kids you are getting divorced: what to avoid

  • Don’t underestimate them. Children understand and see FAR more than we give them credit for. This includes reading your body language. Kids are masters at that.
  • Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Kids need to know that it’s normal, natural, and totally okay to be upset when something sad happens.
  • Avoid language like “don’t feel sad” or “don’t be scared.” These feelings are normal and associated with loss. If you discourage them, kids will keep it inside or begin to believe it’s wrong to feel that way.
  • Don’t give unnecessary or adult details. The kids do not need to know that Daddy is sleeping around or that your legal bills are piling up. Stick to telling them about the things that apply directly to them. Avoid blaming, name calling or labeling your mate. He is their father first and always will be.

What do you want to make sure you do?

  • Tell them together. Ideally, both parents will tell the kids as a couple – that means, at the same time. Keep the conversation simple and direct. Invite them to ask questions. Afterwards, talk with each child individually as well. Older kids may have different questions or need more details than younger ones, so talking individually gives you a chance to address their worries.
  • Use age appropriate language and details. When talking to all the kids together, make sure it’s in a way that your youngest will understand. You can have a deeper conversation with the older children separately.
  • Model for your kids how to express their feelings. Tell them honestly how you feel so they can feel safe doing the same. Kids will mimic you and if you act strong and show no emotion, that’s what they will try to do too. It’s ok to cry and let them know that you are sad.  Tell them what is in your heart, in simple terms and they will feel safe enough to do the same.
  • Tell the truth. Sugar coating it isn’t going to ring true anyway so it’s best to be straightforward and honest. Try, “This is really sad and it’s going to be hard at times.  But we have each other to get through it.”
  • Check in often. Feelings and understandings change as your child grows and matures. They may not feel free to talk about it in this moment, but that can change weeks, months or years later. By asking how they are, you are inviting them to share their feelings.
  • Be prepared to have the discussion more than once, possibly over and over again. Let them talk and ask questions when they are ready. Reassure them they can come to you anytime.
  • Look for outside resources to lessen your children’s sense of isolation. Find age appropriate books that discuss divorce, two households, or step families. Contact your children’s school, the administration and your child’s teacher to let them know what’s going on at home. Some schools even have after school support programs for kids whose parents are breaking up or already separated.

What’s next?

After the initial talk, it’s important to keep the conversation going and allow them to bring up questions anytime. As changes occur, like moving out or a new custody schedule is put into place, keep the kids in the loop and informed. Discuss what it means for them (both good and bad) and find out what questions they have in order to give them an opportunity to prepare themselves mentally for the changes to come. Help them to know what to anticipate next (for example, perhaps having a family calendar posted in both homes, so kids can see where they will be tomorrow or next week and take comfort in the structure) and always, always, encourage them to express themselves.

The decision to divorce is never easy, most especially when there are kids involved. Often the anticipation of the conversation, when or how to tell the kids, is much worse than the conversation itself. You may find that they kids are relieved to talk to you about it or even that they suspected all along.

One final note

This advice applies to telling kids of ALL ages, no matter how old they are. Even if they are grown up, with kids of their own, they will want and will appreciate a chance to be part of this important family conversation. Telling your kids about your decision to divorce is an opportunity to bring your family closer together, if you let it.

If you’d like to speak to someone more in depth about your particular situation, we invite you to schedule a free 45-minute consultation with us. 

Couple in courtyard thinking about divorce advice

When to Introduce Your New Beau or Belle to Your Kids

Ok, you’re finally divorced. You’ve signed the papers and made peace with your decision. You’re done listening to divorce advice and ready to start living again. At long last, you are free to do what you want, go where you want, and be with whom you want.

Or are you?

It’s not so simple if you have children.

I claim no formula or easy divorce advice

But I suppose this is as good advice as any: First, have the Newbie, or if you prefer, your New Beau or New Belle, pick you up for dates with a brief introduction to the kids. (And no, he* should not bring presents!)

If this new relationship goes on for two or more months and you are speaking to or seeing him on a regular basis, then the next step is to have the “talk” with him. The “talk” centers on how he has to be sensitive to the kids and their love for their dad, and how, in general, he can’t move too fast.

Your New Beau can begin to establish a relationship with the kids (perhaps he might offer to take them to the park, bowling, or bicycling), but activities should be neutral—things that will neither excite them too much nor dismay them. Keep it simple.

Staying over will have to wait. Children understand that sex is a whole other step towards something that might be permanent. If your children are pretty secure and your New Beau has handled this right, you can explain in your way that you are now “going steady” with your new partner and he might be staying over once in a while. If that plays badly, postpone the overnights for a few months.

No matter how many times one tells the children the divorce was not their fault, many kids still think it is. Many also fantasize about their parents reconciling. Never, ever agree that this is a possibility! Do not let them hold out hope, but rather remind them that Daddy has a new life and is probably dating some nice people. Remind them you have a new life, too, and that you and Daddy are much happier now.

It may not be easy

Your kids may weep or get angry. Comfort them, but hold your ground. It is certainly possible that other symptoms will emerge: bed-wetting, depression, sadness, and meltdowns are often typical for children of those recently divorced.

If these symptoms or behaviors continue, I recommend you talk to a professional who specializes in divorce advice and perhaps secure professional help for your children as well. This may include family counseling. Do not let it fester. Unusual symptoms are literally a cry for help. If you cannot afford private counseling, call one of the many agencies, religious or secular, who might help you find a low cost or volunteer professional.

This said, some children may very well welcome a new person, someone who can help them with homework, throw a ball around, or talk movies or hobbies. Here, too, be cautious. Unless you are certain this person is indeed your next partner, you do not want your children to become too attached to him and risk yet another disappointment. It is, for sure, a delicate balance.

If it works out, you’ve dodged a bullet and can look forward to a happy new future. But what if it doesn’t?

What if your New Beau has his own version of the “talk” with you?

The “I can’t commit” talk, or you just sense he is cooling off? Don’t try to convince yourself otherwise if you sense he is distancing himself because he probably is. This is why—like everything in life—timing is so important. You do not want your children newly invested in a relationship that will upend their world again. For if they are, you will have to start all over with your kids; explaining that you are sorry that he was not the right person for the family, but it was something between the two of you, and the demise of your romance did not hinge on them, the children, whom he thought were great.

Never let the kids think it had anything to do with them. And even while you are dealing with your own loss, and perhaps comforting your children, you must show them by word and deed that life goes on. There are movies, games, and adventures that await—all kinds of exciting and marvelous family activities that will distract both you and the kids.

Remember to learn from this relationship, too. Gauge for yourself if you brought him into the family too soon and do not make that particular mistake again. As a divorcée and mother, you must go smartly into your new life. Maybe, just maybe, there really isn’t going to be a time in your life when you should ignore good divorce advice. You are free in many ways, but most importantly, you are free and wiser as a result of your life decisions.

A novelist, therapist, mother to three, and grandmother to five, Sheila Levin is twice divorced. Find her books, Simple Truths and Musical Chairs at Amazon.com.

Although SAS periodically features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women™ is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation.

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Helping Your Children Understand You’re Getting a Divorce

How do you help your children understand you are getting a divorce, when inside your head you are not clear if divorce is the right thing? Even if you are sure you want to end it, you probably have reservations . . . some that are buried deep in your heart and soul about whether this is the right move.

How does one know if it is the right thing to divorce? How do you share with the kids something that is scary and unknowneven for you?

You help your children by helping yourself first.

Let’s start with the practical part

The practical part: Can you put together a way to support yourself and your family?

Your marriage might be stone cold dead, but you still have to eat and to provide for your children. I am not saying that a lack of resources should stop you from divorcing; but you have to have a plan. You must know what you need. What can you expect your husband will contribute? Can you work more, or go back to work? What are your basic needs for shelter, utilities and food? Meet with someone who can teach you about money  so you have a practical understanding of how your life will change.

If you are lucky, and there is money available to you, then perhaps you will not have that conversation with your children about being more frugal, cutting down on Christmas presents, or cutting back on lessons or activities they presently enjoy.

Having a handle on the practical allows you stand more firmly when you talk to your kids. Like all matters of divorce, telling the children and how much you tell depends on their age, their level of maturity, and their understanding that Mom is not doing this on a lark. She is doing this to further her and their potential happiness.

The “Daddy and I both love you” isn’t going to cut it. They get it; they will know you both love them. What they will not know is why they can’t take piano lessons or have that super sled once promised for Christmas. It’s not a game for them; it’s their life. So be sure to have several (–as many as you can) talks about the practical results of an impending divorce.

When you have a good understanding on how much money you will have, there will come a time to discuss your new financial situation with your children. You can say that in this new life you and the children are approaching, one of the changes will be in the way you spend money. Depending on the age of your children (I would say not to burden them if they are under the age of ten) you can point out that there will still be money for treats, just not as much. If there is an amount you can identify, say $100 a month, that you feel you can spend on your children’s non-essentials, like fun stuff, talk with them about how that money should be spent. X amount for movies. X amount for toys, etc. In a way, it will be a matter of some pride for them to have a role in the family finances. You can start paying them small amounts for chores, remember to stress “saving,” and by sharing and showing, give them a sense of both control and companionship in what will probably be reduced circumstances.

Take advantage of every social service you can find – and there are quite a few. Government, religious and social service organizations have a wide range of help available, from therapy to help with finances to advice about medical care. Use those social services for support.

What about the less clear, less practical parts of understanding your decision to divorce?

If your husband is overtly hostile or has been abusive, it will be a lot easier for the children to understand why you want a divorce.

But what if he is just boring, or the sex is absent? He’s a nice enough guy, but not for you? That’s the really tough one. In this case you don’t need to do much more than make it clear that Daddy, while a terrific guy, is just not the right husband for you, that you have been unhappy and you deserve a chance to see if you can be happier on your own with the children. You can point out that the children are the most important things in your life, and you will definitely be a better Mother out of an unhappy marriage. Unhappiness is something children understand. So don’t try to make up reasons why Daddy isn’t working for you. Leave it at “unhappy”, “discontented,” or perhaps by drawing on some parallel friendship your child may have had with a friend that did not work out.

One common problem women divorcing share is that they “over romanticize their marriages”

After years of annoying behavior and bitter fights, suddenly your ex looks, well, better. Better than being alone and shouldering the burden of raising the children, mostly alone. This is the “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know” fear of facing change.

Listen, don’t romanticize your marriage; remember the bad times. If the good times outweighed the bad times, you wouldn’t be divorcing. See what your relationship was for real; and don’t stay in a disempowering place that perverts the strength you have shown in leaving a bad marriage for a brighter future.

Thirty years ago, Sheila Levin left New York City and moved to Vieques, Puerto Rico to follow her dreams.  A novelist, therapist, mother to three, and grandmother to five, Sheila is twice divorced.  She knows from where she speaks. Find her books Simple Truths and Musical Chairs at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Although SAS periodically  features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women™ is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation.

Listening to divorce advice can save money

Divorce Advice: Lose Your Emotional Attachment to Money

All good divorce advice should acknowledge that there are many parts to breaking up. It would be easier if the end of a marriage could happen in one clean break, of course—if you could go to a doctor, have them reset the bones of your life, and walk away knowing that in X amount of months you could take off the cast and be healed and whole again. But in reality, there’s breaking up legally, physically, emotionally, and financially, to name just a few vital parts of the process. We can’t exactly control how long it will take to make it through to the other side of divorce or who we will be when we get there.

As financial experts who work with women, we know that women in particular must recognize that all these parts come into play when divorcing, but at the same time, women must strive to separate them. This is especially true when it comes to money.

You must aim to separate your emotions from your decisions. In fact, you must treat the financial part of your divorce as a business transaction.

Find professional support

But this is easier said than done. A lot of women have anxiety about money precisely because they have an emotional relationship with it. So our first piece of divorce advice is to find support (a coach or therapist who specializes in divorce) to help you learn about your emotions and how they impact your decisions.

A professional can help you learn how to understand, harness, and compartmentalize these emotions. Again, this is particularly important when it comes to money.

Ensure you understand your financial outlook

Our second piece of divorce advice is to work with a financial expert who will take the time to educate you on what your real financial choices are so that five years from now you are in the best financial place you can possibly be in.

The key to managing your money throughout your divorce negotiations and, more importantly, the long-term is to keep your emotions in check as best as possible and focus on looking at your financial FUTURE. A forward-looking focus gives women the greatest chance at getting the best possible divorce settlement. And her best financial settlement will usually avoid spending a lot of money on attorneys and going through a lengthy court process.

You must aim to separate your emotions from your decisions. In fact, you must treat the financial part of your divorce as a business transaction.

The benefits of keeping your emotions in check

One of our clients felt a lot of anger at her husband* when he decided to move out. This ratcheted up further when he did not always live up to his custody obligations, leaving her in a lurch and disappointing their eight-year-old twins. Although their relationship was strained, the couple agreed to try the collaborative divorce process. When giving out divorce advice, I often tell clients this is an excellent and cost effective way to for them to divorce, but it also requires good communication.

Our client worked hard at keeping her emotions in check and the yelling to a minimum. Whenever she needed to speak to her husband about issues, she held her tongue and remained civil. When they hit a tough negotiating bump, trying to work out the amount of child support she would receive and who would pay for the twins’ educational expenses, her relationship with her husband was stable enough so that she called him directly and had a productive conversation.

Our client often shared with us (and her therapist) how difficult and painful each and every interaction with her husband was and how hard it was to keep her emotions in check. Due in large part to her self-control, the negotiations moved along quickly and her financial settlement was equitable. He ended up agreeing to pay a bit more monthly alimony and child support than the guidelines indicated. He also gave her a little more of the joint cash than she expected.

Now six months post-divorce, she has a smile a mile wide. We often use this example he anger and injustice that dominated her thoughts during the process seem like a distant memory, and she relishes the feeling of financial security that comes with winding up with enough money to live a reasonable lifestyle.

The pitfalls of being unable to let go of the past

Contrast this experience with that of another client. She and her husband had a second home in Connecticut where the family spent their summers, and it held special memories for her. When the couple separated, her husband made the Connecticut home his main base, and soon after, his girlfriend moved in. He wanted to buy our client out of her half of the house as part of the settlement. He offered her 10 percent over the market value to move the process along. Angry at him for living there with another woman in seeming bliss, she demanded that the house be sold. She admitted to us that the house had become tainted in her eyes, and she would never want to step foot in it again. But she was determined that he should not get to live there.

We showed her that financially it made no difference whether she received half the value of the house from him as part of the settlement or half the value of the house when it was sold. Unable to let go of her demand despite recognizing the financial reality, she spent the next nine months and tens of thousands of dollars only to have a judge ultimately rule that he could keep the house and pay her half.

The outcome of financial negotiations will dictate what lifestyle a woman will be able to live for years after her divorce. The importance of obtaining the best reasonable financial settlement cannot be emphasized enough. To achieve a good financial outcome requires a cool head and following the divorce advice of professionals who have been in your shoes.

Writers, Ellie Lipschitz and Dorian Brown are Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA’s).  Their specialty is working with women on the business side of their divorce. As CDFA’s, they educate and assist their clients to understand the financial aspects of their divorce so they can confidently negotiate an optimal settlement. 

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

children and divorce

Will the Kids Be All Right? Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

Talk to any splitting parent, and it’s the kids.

No matter where you are in the process — deliberating, looking for divorce help, separated, or even, “I’ve signed the divorce papers, but I still feel like I’m going crazy,” — if you are like I was, you worry: what about the kids?  How will my personal story play out?  How will my kids fare as “children of divorce?”

When I was debating my own divorce, I was fixated on my girls. Their well-being was the single most-deciding factor as to whether I would or not pursue the unspeakable. I had to find out.

In a detached “social scientist” kind of way, I asked various friends and acquaintances who were children of divorce. Did they feel okay? Did they think of themselves as reasonably adjusted? How screwed up were they as a result of their parents’ split? What I heard and discovered were answers that were decidedly mixed.

For example, while one female twenty-something friend was matter-of-fact, telling me the divorce in her family “was not even an issue,” another man in his forties still sounded tired. “There was so much fighting,” he sighed, “I wish they had done it earlier.” Others were more emotional. An old friend I went to college with seemed personally injured (all over again) when I conceded the question was really about me. I was considering divorce and I needed to know how she felt today. She was and is “scarred,” she replied growing cool. It may have happened more than thirty years later but she was still not willing to “forgive her parents.”

Then I looked to the professional community, I asked doctors, shrinks, and counselors, “What is best for the children?” But here, too, I learned no clear-cut answers. The uniform professional response was that when it comes to divorce they had seen both good and damaging results; but everyone I spoke to, in one way or another, encouraged me to reflect on the issue of conflict in the household.

How much conflict is too much?

I wondered. And by what standard of measurement?  We all know that in any relationship no two people always agree, but at what point does the number of disagreements cross the line? My husband and I were not good conflict-resolvers, so, as we grappled with divorce, how could we expect to resolve conflict over our conflict? It sounded like a vicious circle to me. I reflected and Googled more.

If only I could find the data on the long-term effects of divorce on children, I reasoned, I’d have clinical evidence. This information could guide my decision-making then and going forth. But what my forays in the dark turned up, was that just like the story of any marriage, there are always dissenting opinions and mitigating factors that prevent absolute clarity. There are few longitudinal studies that conclude anything decisive about kids and divorce.

The work of two of the better-known researchers, Judith Wallerstein and E. Mavis Hetherington seems at odds.  In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study (2001), Wallerstein reports long-term negative effects on children of divorce. In For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (2003), Hetherington reports that not all kids fare so badly, and that divorce can actually help children living in high-conflict homes.

Seemingly oppositional, these studies also remain controversial for their methodologies.  They compare “children of divorced parents” as a group to kids whose parents “did not divorce.” The first group is never compared to those kids whose “parents almost divorced,” or to those whose parents “kept it together but fought every day,” or to those whose parents never fought.  It’s a flawed comparison.  It reveals only that being part of a happy family is better than being part of an unhappy one.

What is especially strange and surprising is that as much as divorce is a reality in American society, social science has not yet figured out a way to measure the nuances of our reality.

To some extent, Wallerstein and Hetherington do agree on one thing; as do all the studies and serious commentaries ranging from scholarly work to the more legit blogs to parenting magazines: divorce is bad. Divorce is a stressor that poses short and long term risks.

Learning from experience

What I have learned from my own divorce and subsequent divorce recovery work with clients is that the long-term effects on your children will usually depend on your divorce itself. A peaceful divorce ( — if that is not an oxymoron) or at least a more amicable divorce will have less negative impact on your kids.

Understand that conflict in the home does not always mean out of control fights or domestic abuse. Too few of us realize that all of our words and actions during and after a divorce affect our children. In fact, the actions and words shared between fighting parents are the leading cause of unhappiness in divorced children. For this parents must hold ourselves responsible. Individually or together, we splitting parents often send negative messages to our kids.

You’ve heard that “children are like dry sponges”? So are they also incredibly receptive to their parent’s feelings and the emotions one parent is feeling toward the other. Of course, no one intends to send the wrong message to his or her kids. But there is something about the crisis, our own drained, sleep-deprived or adrenalin-fueled state going through divorce that often has us letting loose or withdrawing, just when our kids need us the most.

Look to yourself first

If you are concerned about your children and divorce, then you must consider your own words and actions.  How will your behavior impact their recovery? Don’t look to others for how the divorce played out on their kids. Do focus on your goal: to minimize your children’s exposure to conflict and negativity.

Suggestion 1: Every day as you face and interact with your children, help them understand that the divorce is not their fault. Be open and available to them when they need to talk. As one client told me recently, her daughter is more anxious than she is usually, now that the separation is starting.  But to my client’s credit, she recognizes it’s not just words her daughter needs: “It’s the extra hug.”

Suggestion 2: Be there for your kids and also try to put in place a way for your children to receive additional support.  A therapist or counselor, as an objective sounding board, can do a lot to help your child understand what is happening and alleviate his/her sense of guilt for the circumstances.  Look for developmentally-appropriate books, videos and resources, too, that will help your child understand what s/he is going through.

Suggestion 3: Above all, show your children that you are a still a family no matter how you define your marital status. Your kids need good parents now more than ever, and this is your chance to do your best regardless of how things have been in the past.

SAS for Women is an invaluable resource for women contemplating a divorce or in the actual throes of divorce. SAS women are educated and prepared, while making smart and thoughtful decisions for everyone they love. You are invited to talk with SAS and learn what is possible for you through a FREE consultation. Schedule your confidential conversation here