young child sitting down on stairs with head in hands, ofsted reports children's homes

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to fail. The end of a marriage typically unleashes a flood of emotions including then anger, grief, anxiety and fear. Sometimes, these feelings can rise up when you least expect them, catching you off guard. Such a response is normal, and over time, for adults, usually the intensity of the these feelings will then subside.

Divorce can be just as traumatic experience for children, but research suggests that most children adjust well within two years following the divorce, on the other hand, children often experience more problems when parents remain in high-conflict marriages instead of splitting up.

During a divorce, parents can do a lot to ease the child’s transition and doing your upmost to try and keep any conflict away from the children is pivotal to their emotional well-being. Ongoing parental conflict increases a child’s risk of suffering both psychological and social problems and clearly this should be avoided.

Telling a child then that you’re separating can be the thing that you most dread and in many cases a parent will fear what then the child’s reaction will be.

Every child and every family are different, so it is important to take time and think about then your child or children, and your particular family situation before you say or do anything.

Separating at any time is a life-changing event for a child. Explaining to a child what is happening, what is going to happen next and why is never going to be easy but there are ways and means that you can approach the subject which will help your child feel supported, loved and with them feeling that their needs are being met.

Those “needs” will very much depend on their age, their development and other circumstances but in general, you may find the following advice helpful for breaking the news of separation to a child:

  • Avoid giving your child details that they will simply be unable to comprehend or fully understand; for example, do they really need to know details of any extra marital affair or who that other person might be? Giving such details to a child of any age can clearly have a significant impact on their thinking and so emotional well-being and should be avoided.
  • Use language that a child will understand – a child is unlikely to understand what a divorce is, so is there any benefit to then trying to explain the process to a child when even some adults find it difficult to comprehend and fully understand.
  • Reassure your child or children that it’s okay to be upset and use words and cuddles to provide emotional comfort – letting a child know that regardless of anything else, that they remain loved by you both and that the separation has nothing to do with them and is not their fault is reassuring and reduces the risk of future emotional harm.
  • Describe how your children’s world will change from theirpoint of view – e.g. “Daddy will still pick you up from school, but he won’t be here to put you to bed”.
  • Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to something – tell the child you’ll find out, or that when you know they will know, again, to reassure them.
  • Let them know that regardless of whatever else happens, they can talk to you, that you are available and that they can ask questions at any time about what is happening so that they have that feeling that they are not forgotten and that they are at the top of the agenda.

It’s often helpful for divorcing parents to come up with a plan and present it to their children together, children benefit from having honest conversations about the changes their family is experiencing and when they are freely able to communicate openly with both parents.

In many cases, sudden changes can be very hard on children, so remaining in familiar surroundings after you’ve told your children about your plans and separation is ideal, and for both parents to be around afterwards. If one parents is to leave, tell the children when this will be, where they’ll be going to, when they’ll be seeing them again and how they can be contacted when they’re not around. If appropriate, if it is intended for the children to move say with their mother, give them a few weeks’ notice before moving them to a new home, or before one parent moves out. It may go without having to say, but minimising the changes as much as possible in the months and years following a divorce can and is only beneficial to the well-being of a child.

If appropriate, children will react better to any separation and so changes, when they are able to maintain close contact with both parents. Research suggests that children who have a poor relationship with one or both parents may have a harder time dealing with family upheaval and so having regular conversations about how they’re feeling, how they are coping and taking about problems when they are ready is pivotal.

Should you require legal advice and help regarding a divorce or separation, or should you be now concerned with the child arrangements to be made post separation, at Prism Family Law, we have the expertise to help.

If you require further information or would like to make an appointment please contact David Banks, Solicitor on 0191 269 6871 or email [email protected] for immediate legal advice and help.

In certain cases, subject to qualifying criteria, we are able to offer our legal services and help with the benefit of legal aid as provided by the Legal Aid Agency.

Disclaimer: This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.