Each year, over 1 million American children are affected by their parents’ divorce. How each child reacts depends on many factors, including their age, personality, and of course, the circumstances surrounding the divorce or separation. Many times, the initial reaction of children is one of shock, sadness, frustration, anger, or worry. However, with enough planning, you can handle your divorce in a way that doesn’t have to feel like your kids’ world is crashing down on them. If dealt with appropriately, many kids can come out of divorce mentally stronger and better able to cope with stress.

Here are some tips to prepare your children for divorce and ease the transition:

Preparing to Deliver the News

When figuring out how to deliver the news to your children, make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page about how you will tell them what’s happening. It would be a good idea for you and your spouse to do some sort of “dress rehearsal” to prepare exactly what you are going to say ahead of time. Even if you feel like you can barely be in the same room as your spouse, it’s important to at least present a united front to prevent your kids from feeling like they are being pulled into taking sides. Children do significantly better with the news of divorce when their parents are positive and aligned.

Breaking the News

              Make sure that when you deliver the news to your children, you are doing it at a time when stress is low and nobody has plans for at least a few hours, that way they have a little bit of time to work through their initial reaction. Making this announcement and then sending the kids to school, for example, might make it very difficult for them to focus.

Additionally, this conversation should ideally take place in a quiet, safe space—perhaps their backyard, living room, or any other space that is comfortable and free of distractions. If your children have electronic devices with them, make a rule for everyone to put their devices away during the conversation.

What specific words and phrases you decide to use during the conversation will, of course, depend on the child’s age, maturity, and temperament. However, the discussion should always include this message: what happened is between mother and father and is in no way the child’s fault. The reason for this is that many children will feel that they’re to blame even after parents have said that they are not, so it’s important to keep reiterating this message. Make sure that your child knows that your decision is strictly about adults needing to be apart due to differences.

While you are obviously going to need to discuss what will be changing in your children’s lives and daily routine, it is equally as important to focus on what will stay the same. Divorce can be extremely destabilizing, so telling your children what will not change may provide them with some comfort.

Handling their Reactions

Every child will react to this news in their own way. Some children react very strongly initially and then slowly begin to adjust and accept it, while others seemingly take the news in stride and then exhibit signs of distress days, weeks, or even months later. Either way, these are normal reactions—they are grieving the loss of a family. Remind them that it’s perfectly okay to feel however they are feeling and that you are there to help them through the transition. And if you aren’t sure how your child is feeling about the divorce, just ask them.

As children continue to react, they will likely have many questions, including where they will live, where each parent will live, where they will go to school, if they’ll still get to see their friends, etc. Be as honest as you can, even when it isn’t easy. If you don’t have an answer to something, tell your child that you will let them know as soon as you figure it out.

Helping Kids Cope and Adjust to their New Normal

As time goes on, children will begin to adjust to their new life with divorced parents. This can be difficult at first, however, there are a few things you can do to help them better adjust:

  • Stay consistent. Whenever possible, minimize unpredictable schedules, transitions, or changes. Consistency and routine can go a long way toward providing comfort and familiarity for children. Don’t try to make your children feel better by relaxing limits, letting them act out, or buying them things. This can backfire, possibly making your children more insecure and less likely to recognize your parental authority later.
  • Encourage communication. Tell your child that it’s okay to talk about their feelings and ask questions, but don’t push them. Let your child vocalize how they are feeling if they want to. If your child doesn’t want to talk about the divorce, don’t try to engage in a conversation about it—they may not be ready yet. Let them know that you are available if and when they are ready to talk about it. Do your best to co-parent with your soon-to-be “ex.” Parents need to communicate and consult each other on major decisions, so that the children know that their parents are on the same page. Let them know that both of their parents love them and are looking out for their best interests.
  • Have a therapist on call. Before you even announce your split to your kids, it might be a good idea to line up a therapist. Providing children with a neutral place to express their feelings can help them process some of the big emotions they’re going through. It’s good to have your child start with a therapist before they start showing signs of behavioral changes.
  • Don’t fight in front of the children. Studies have shown that post-divorce conflict in front of the children can lead to mental health issues down the line. Openly arguing in front of the kids can make them feel like they are stuck in the middle—something that no child should ever feel. Additionally, this conflict can set a really bad example for them, especially when they are still learning how to form their own relationships. Whether you and your ex decide to go to mediation, therapy, or just argue outside of the children’s earshot, do whatever you have to do to keep the kids out of it.
  • Don’t talk poorly about one another. This can be a tough one but try your best not to lay blame on your partner to your children, even if there has been serious hostility or infidelity. This will just lead to your children feeling like they have to pick a side, which, again, is something that no child should ever feel. If you can, make a pact with your ex to not ever talk poorly about each other in front of the child.

Ultimately, changes of any kind are hard for kids. Stay patient, stay consistent, and know that you and your children will get through

By Logan Matura


At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., our Arizona Family Law Attorneys Gary Frank, Hanna Amar, and Logan Matura are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Phoenix Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Law firm Partner, Hanna Amar is a highly-skilled Arizona Family Law Attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. Hanna has also acted as the President of the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Maricopa County Bar Association. Associate Attorney Logan Matura is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who received her Juris Doctor degree from New York Law School in Manhattan, NY. While in law school, she served as an intern for a Family Court judge in the Bronx, NY, and was a member of the Family Attorneys Mobilizing club. Our firm handles Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification actions, enforcement actions, grandparent and step-parent and non-parent rights, as well as other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at   We look forward to hearing from you.


I have no moral objection to people living together outside of marriage. Heck, I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. We practically invented the concept of “Cohabitation.”  As someone who has practiced Family Law for decades, I can tell you that a piece of paper does not ensure a lifelong commitment. And countless couples have a loving, lifelong bond even though they have chosen never to marry. The problem is that, after all these years, our lawmakers still haven’t gotten the message. And they fail to recognize that people who choose to share their life without a marriage license should still be able to share their property, and divide it fairly in the event of a breakup. This makes for some pretty unfair, and even economically dangerous, scenarios.
Most people think of marriage as having a moral or religious significance. But what many people don’t realize is that whether we like it or not, marriage also has a legalsignificance. And what you don’t know can hurt you. The fact is that the law provides certain protections for a married spouse that do not exist outside of marriage. And the results can be disastrous following the breakup of an unmarried couple.
Over the years, I have seen instances in which a couple breaks up after years of cohabitation, and one of them walks away with essentially all of the money and property while the other partner comes away with nothing. It’s heartbreaking. A legal marriage would have provided the protection that the vulnerable partner needed. But Arizona provides no protection for a cohabiting couple. Some states (like Texas) recognize “common law marriage.” Arizona does not. Other states (like California) provide some protection in the form of “palimony” (similar to alimony).  Arizona has rejected that theory. The problem is that couples who choose to live together outside of marriage are taking a legal risk when it comes to division of property and financial support.
Here are some of the pitfalls of being an unmarried, cohabiting couple:
In Arizona, division of property following a marital breakup is governed by the old Spanish concept of “Community Property” Law. Under this legal concept, there are two kinds of property: Separate Property and Community Property. Following a legal separation or divorce, the husband and wife will each receive his and her separate property, and the community property will be shared equally. But if the parties are not married, there is no “community property.” That means nothing is shared, and the “richer” party – the one who actually purchased the house, the car, the furniture, etc. – may walk away with everything. Here’s why:
Separate Property:  Under Arizona law, separate property is anything a spouse owns before the marriage, and any property that he/she receives during the marriage by specific gift or inheritance. So, for instance, the husband’s old baseball card collection from childhood, or the family heirloom that Wife received as a gift from her grandmother – those things are separate property and will be awarded to the owner in the property division upon dissolution of marriage. If one of the spouses receives an inheritance of money from a grandparent during the marriage, the inheritance is considered separate property so long as it is kept separately or placed in an account in that spouse’s name alone. But if the money is comingled to the point where it can no longer be traced, such as being placed in a joint bank account that is used for salary deposits and payment of bills, it may lose its character as separate property and become “transmuted” (changed) to community property. Separate property also includes any increase that is tied to sale or appreciation of separate property. For example, if a spouse uses her separate funds to buy stock in a company, and the stock increases in value, the increase is considered separate property.

When a marriage is dissolved, the separate property will be identified and awarded to the spouse that it belongs to. All other property belonging to the parties is considered to be community property, and will be divided substantially equally.

However, if the parties are living together but aren’t married, then everything either party earns, buys, or acquires is considered to be the separate property of that person (unless the title is taken in joint tenancy or the acquisition is based on a partnership). There is no community property to be divided.

Community Property: Community property under Arizona law is defined as all property (other than separate property) acquired by either spouse during the marriage.  Under community property theory, each party owns the property equally. This means that whatever a spouse earns from his/her employment is community property, and anything that is purchased with monies earned by either spouse is community property. So, if a spouse cashes a paycheck and uses the money to buy a car, that car is community property and belongs to both spouses equally. If she or he opens a brokerage account using community funds and invests in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, then that account, and all future growth, is considered to be community property and belongs to both spouses equally. Furniture purchased with community funds is community property. Money contributed to a pension, retirement account, or 401k by one spouse during a marriage is community property and belongs to both spouses 50/50. And if one spouse starts a business during the marriage, that business is also considered to be community property, even if only one spouse runs it.
Over the course of a lengthy marriage, couples can accumulate a large amount of community property. And if the marriage falls apart and the couple divorces, the community property will be divided between the parties essentially equally. This can provide financial security for the spouse who didn’t have the high paying job, or who stayed home and cared for the children while the other spouse acted as the breadwinner.
But here is the potential problem with cohabitation:  If a couple couple lives together but never marries, there will be no “community property” to divide if they later separate — and the law in Arizona does not provide any protection for the “poorer” partner. This can result in a terrible inequity. Imagine a couple who has lived together without marrying for twenty-five years. During that time, one of the partners purchased a business that became a successful and lucrative enterprise. With his earnings, he purchases a massive house in a gated community (which he puts in his own name) and furnishes it beautifully, and he buys expensive automobiles (also in his name alone). He puts money in investment accounts, and retirement accounts (all in his name). He buys life insurance policies, and paintings by famous artists. Finally, he opens a joint account which he places in both partners’ names, but he only deposits a little money each month to cover household expenses.
If the parties were married and filed for divorce under that scenario, then by law everything would be considered community property and would be divided equally. On the other hand, if the parties were not married it becomes an entirely different story. All of the property – the cash in banks, the house, the furniture, the cars, the business, the stocks and investment accounts, the life insurances policies, the valuable works of art – they’re all the separate property of only the one partner. The other partner gets nothing but half of the joint bank account, and there isn’t much money there, since only enough was deposited each month to pay for household expenses. So after all those years of living together as partners in a committed relationship, one party walks away with everything and will live the rest of his or her life in comfort. The other party gets nothing and will suffer financial deprivation.
Spousal Maintenance:
In many committed relationships – whether marital or cohabiting – one of the partners will take on the role of the breadwinner, while the other remains in the home and cares for the children. This allows the partner who is not the caregiver to focus on his/her career; to advance through the ranks of the business world, and increase his/her income and earning power over the years. This type of arrangement can work well, so long as the parents’ relationship lasts.  But what happens if, after 15 or 20 years the relationship deteriorates and parties separate? The working partner might now be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, with the prospect of further advancement and an even higher income in the future. On the other hand, what becomes of the partner who gave up her/his career for the benefit of the family? That person might now be his/her 50’s, no longer a young up-and-comer. Because she or he jumped off the fast track to care for the kids, the prospect of a lucrative career is now gone, and she/he may be forced to take a job with an entry-level salary. How is that fair?
Arizona law provides protection for a married person under these circumstances. The married spouse who sacrificed for the family will be entitled to financial assistance from the other spouse in the form of Spousal Maintenance. The party with the greater wealth will be ordered to financially support the other party for a sufficient period of time to allow that party to complete an education or begin a career and get on her/his feet. (In rare circumstances, the court can require spousal maintenance be paid for the rest of the former spouse’s life.) In order to determine the amount that the person will receive, and how long the support will continue be paid, the judge will consider a number of factors listed in the statute. The amount of monthly spousal support will be dependent upon the lifestyle the family enjoyed during the marriage, the parties’ comparative incomes, the needs of the party seeking spousal maintenance, and a number of other factors.
But the obligation to pay spousal support only applies when the parties were married. Where parties were unmarried and living together, the richer party has no legal obligation whatsoever to help the poorer party financially after the relationship ends. This lack of legal protection can especially hurt a party who gave up her/his career to stay home and care for the children.
If a married person dies without a Will in Arizona, the surviving spouse will receive the entire estate of the deceased spouse.
On the other hand, if a person who is unmarried and cohabiting dies without a Will in Arizona, the scenario is much different. In that case, the deceased person’s property will be distributed by Arizona’s law of intestate succession – and none of it will go to the surviving partner. If the deceased person has children, then the entire estate will go to the children. If there are no children, then all of the dead person’s property will go to his/her parents; and if the parents are no longer alive, then the property will go to deceased person’s siblings. Unless the surviving partner’s name is on the house, or the car, or the bank accounts, the life insurance policy etc., then she/he will receive nothing at all.
There is a similar scenario for Social Security. If a married person dies, his/her spouse will likely receive a Social Security death benefit. But if the two parties are not married, then the surviving partner will receive nothing (although the children could receive a death benefit).
This may all seem unfair – and I agree that it is. But the bottom line is this: Under the current law there are important protections afforded to married couples that are not provided for unmarried couples who are cohabiting. Our lawmakers have turned a blind eye to the reality of relationships today and, at least in Arizona, it is unlikely that they will act to close the gap any time soon.
Obviously, marrying your partner is one way to protect yourself but, for many different reasons, not everyone wants to take that route in life. The good news is that there are other ways to provide protection. These include setting up joint bank accounts and having both partners deposit their paychecks; opening joint investment accounts; putting together your own IRA or retirement account and having the “richer” partner put an equal amount in yours as he/she puts in his/hers; putting your name on the house title, and the car title, in joint tenancy, so that you are half-owner; etc.
You can also protect yourself by entering into a written Domestic Partnership, or other partnership, agreement that spells out the rights of both parties and describes how property will be divided in the event that the relationship ends and the parties separate.

If you are living with a partner in a committed relationship outside of marriage, you owe it to yourself to consider whether you might be economically harmed if the relationship ends today, or even more importantly, twenty years from now.  It could mean the difference between living a comfortable lifestyle after a separation – or having to struggle financially and worry how you’re going to be able to make ends meet.



At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney and mediator with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at   We look forward to hearing from you.


Studies show that two people who are going through a divorce are rarely “on the same page” — even when it comes to the process of grieving.

To those of us who are divorce experts, it is no surprise that a couple who has split up would find themselves at different stages of the grieving process at different times.  After all, the person who initiates the breakup has typically thought about it well in advance.  By the time the decision has been made and the divorce papers are filed, she or he had plenty of time to grieve and has already come to the point of acceptance.  However, this is not the case for the other spouse, who very often is taken completely by surprise.  That person is at the beginning of the grief process, and it will take him/her longer to work through the emotions that are a normal part of any divorce. 

But please keep in mind that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  For now, take it one day at a time.  If you need help, find a good counselor.  Life can, and will, be good again.

This song, “Breakeven” by The Script, perfectly describes the feelings of the partner who has been “left behind” . . .

Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney, a litigator, and a mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorcepaternity, custody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at [email protected]  You can also reach us through our website at  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.

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