This is obviously a weighty and lengthy subject for a blog. I won’t pretend to offer anything comprehensive here; after all, I’m just a family lawyer, not a child psychologist or therapist. I have no advanced training in these issues.
And I don’t have much personal experience about divorce to bring to bear on these questions. Of all the divorces I have seen, both professionally and personally, I doubt I’ve seen any two people handle the situation any better than my parents. I have no horror stories from which to draw. I have always been thankful for that; having now seen the ugly side of many divorces, I can’t tell you what a blessing it was to have had parents wise enough to minimize the conflict and, as best they could, shield me from it. I guess that fact, and all the ugly situations I’ve seen, makes me want to help others make better decisions about this subject.
So my observations must come from what I’ve seen over the past several years, having handled dozens and dozens of Arkansas divorces. Most of what I’ve gleaned, unfortunately, comes from bad experiences. As a general rule, parents don’t handle talking to their kids about divorce very well.
There are two reasons why this is a worthwhile thing to consider: First, and most important, it has a big impact on kids. In this age of political and social division, it’s impossible to get people to agree on anything. But one thing everyone does agree on—at least in theory—is that we need to protect kids from bad stuff.
The second reason is also important: The way you talk to your kids during a divorce can affect your child custody case. There is a lot of agreement on this front, too: Judges and attorneys and attorneys ad litem and professionals are on the same page that you simply should not use your kids to gain an advantage in a custody battle. If you do, you will hurt your credibility and trustworthiness, both of which are critical components of victory in a custody dispute.
Here’s what I’ve found to be some of the most important things to remember:
- If it all possible, speak to your kids together with your spouse, and make sure you speak to all the children at one time. When you present a united front, you minimize speculation and, even worse, older children feeling pressure to keep secrets from younger children.
- Make sure that you emphasize that you’re going to do everything you can not to disrupt their lives. Stability and continuity are the most important things for kids during this time.
- Plan what you’re going to say, preferably with your spouse. This is not the time to wing it.
- If you need to speak to your children without the benefit of your spouse, make sure not to blame them. It doesn’t matter whose fault the divorce is; it is never helpful to assign blame to the other person.
- It is not your kid’s fault that you’re getting a divorce, and you can’t say this enough. Say it over and over again.
- Avoid details. They aren’t helpful for your kids.
The funny thing about all this advice is that it’s obvious to any person. But most advice is obvious to everyone except the person going through a situation where it’s hard to follow.
This brings up another piece of advice that’s probably more important than anything: If you’re going through a divorce, surround yourself with wise people who can help you make good decisions. People tend to lose their minds during this stressful time, so no amount of good advice makes it through. That’s what your friends and family are for, assuming they are mature enough to tell the truth.
A good lawyer is a big help, too. Call us if you need us.