HOW TO PREPARE CHILDREN FOR A DIVORCE

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 www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

TEN TIPS FOR SURVIVING YOUR DIVORCE — AND THRIVING

This year is coming to a close.   If you are in the middle of a divorce – or if you are getting ready to go through one – the next twelve months could be tough.  So, here are some simple guidelines to make the journey less difficult.

1.   Keep your children out of the middle of your dispute

Research shows that children of divorce can grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults.  However, the research also shows that children of high-conflict divorces can develop emotional problems that last a lifetime.  It can be devastating for a child to be caught in the middle of a dispute between parents.  You love your children.  That’s a given.  But loving your children is not enough.  You need to protect them from the emotional turmoil that you, as parents, may be going through.  This is an enormous challenge.  The key is to keep the children out of the middle of your dispute.  Don’t use them as messengers.  Don’t make them witness angry arguments between the parents.  Let them know the divorce is not their fault, and that both parents will continue to love them and take care of them, even after the divorce.

2.            Allow your child to love the other parent

When a marriage comes apart and emotions are at a boiling point, it is easy for a parent to make the mistake of voicing his or her displeasure with the other parent to the children.  Sometimes this leads to a war of words, with each parent feeling the need to “defend” himself / herself by badmouthing the other.  But here’s a warning:  Clinical research shows that this type of behavior can cause serious emotional problems for children.  They need to be able to love both of their parents.  So give them your permission.  You would probably place your life on the line to protect your children from a stranger who tried to hurt them.  Then why wouldn’t you make every effort to protect your children from your own anger and toxic feelings toward their other parent?    

3.            Don’t give your child too much information 


Of course, it is important to be honest with your children – but giving them information that is not age-appropriate, or talking to them about details of your divorce that they are incapable of emotionally processing, can be harmful and destructive.   Don’t talk to your children about the legal issues of your divorce.  Don’t show them your court paperwork.  Don’t share adult information with young children.  If you need to vent or get your feelings off your chest, turn to a trusted friend, a family member, or a therapist.  Keep your children out of the loop.  Let them be children.    

4.            Try to be flexible 

Parenting-time disputes can be the cause of much stress, especially during the holidays.  You can save yourself a lot of grief by trying to be flexible.  Being flexible is not a sign of weakness.  It sends a message that you are willing to compromise.  Extending an olive branch often leads to the other parenting being willing to compromise, too.  Parents who refuse to be flexible can find themselves locked in a never-ending battle; and instead of being able to solve their own problems they tend to return to court over-and-over again, putting their fate in the hands of lawyers and judges. 

 

5.            Don’t rely on “legal advice” from your friends 

Don’t believe everything your hear, especially when it comes from a friend or family member who is trying to give you advice about legal matters.  Everyone knows a friend whose own divorce was a nightmare and promises that your outcome will be terrible, too; or one who insists that your judge will give you everything you want because your custody case is a “slam-dunk.”  Receiving legal advice from a friend or family member can be a huge mistake, since tends to give you false expectations.  If you want good, solid legal advice about your divorce or custody case, talk to a lawyer who specializes in Family Law.

 
6.            Choose a lawyer wisely 


One of the most important decisions you will ever make is finding the right attorney.   Many people who are embroiled in a family law dispute say, “I’m going to hire the meanest, most aggressive, attorney I can find.”   That usually works – for the lawyer.  If the lawyer is only mean, or only aggressive, then the result will probably be a long, contentious, and expensive litigation.  That means more money for the lawyer.  Your money!  What you really want is a highly qualified attorney, one who is looking out for your interests.  The best attorney is someone who is skilled and experienced; someone who will fight for your rights — but who is also looking for ways to resolve the matter peacefully, if at all possible.  Most importantly, you should select an attorney who is a good match for you, and who makes you feel comfortable and confident.

 

7.            Be willing to compromise


Court litigation is, by nature, an adversarial process.  It can take a long time and cost a lot of money – and in the end, the final decision will be made by a judge who is a stranger to both parties.   Therefore, in any divorce or custody litigation, your goal should be to negotiate a solution that meets your needs and the needs of the children.  You can save yourself a great deal of time and money, and avoid much stress, by being willing to make reasonable compromises.  People who are able to negotiate a fair resolution of their dispute tend to be much happier with the arrangement in the long run.


8.            Talk to someone you can trust


A person going through the turmoil of divorce or custody case can benefit from a strong support system.  If you are struggling with a divorce, or if you are caught in a highly contested custody case, find someone to talk to. Whether it is with a family member, a friend, someone from your church, or a therapist, talking about your feelings is a healthy outlet.   There are also many divorce and single-parent support groups in your community that will welcome you and help you understand that you are not alone.  

9.            Take care of yourself

You can’t take proper care of your family if you don’t take care of yourself.  So take time to exercise.  Join a yoga class.  Meet a friend for dinner.  Or just spend some “down-time” relaxing at home. — Good nutrition, vigorous exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation, lots of love and laughter — these are the keys to surviving a divorce and thriving.  Taking care of yourself will help you get through this tough time in your life.  It’s a wise investment.

 

10.         Know that there is life after divorce


It may not seem like it now, but rest assured that there is, indeed, life after divorce – and it can be great.  It will certainly be an adjustment, and it will take a commitment on your part, but getting out of an unhappy marriage, making new friends, and taking control of your physical and mental health, can give you a new perspective and lead to a happier life.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year!

 

The law firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. offers strong advocacy for clients involved in all areas of Family Law, including disputes involving divorce, custody (legal decision-making), parenting time, interstate custody or visitation, grandparent and non-parent custody and visitation, division of property and businesses, spousal and child support, modification of existing orders, enforcement of orders, relocation / move-away cases, paternity, guardianships, and other matters involving children and families.  Gary Frank is also an experienced Family Law Mediator who can help you resolve your dispute without the need for fighting in court.  With more than thirty years of experience as a courtroom litigator, as well as a mediator and a former Judge Pro Tem, Mr. Frank brings skill, compassion, and a depth of understanding to each matter he handles, and each client that he represents.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona, and we have satellite office in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley to more conveniently serve our clients.  You can reach us by telephone at 602-383-3610 or by email at [email protected].  You can also check us out on our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

YOU ARE THE ADULTS – KEEP THE KIDS OUT OF YOUR DISPUTE … PLEASE!

Mister Rogers (talking to a young boy whose parents are going through a divorce):
“I think one of the toughest things for children is for their parents not to be getting along, and so divorce feels like it’s just ripping a piece of cloth apart, and for children to try to understand that is sometimes way beyond their capacities.  So you really need somebody to help you know that both your mother and your dad love you.  It wasn’t your fault that your mom and dad don’t live together, and it won’t be your fault if they get a divorce.  As a matter of fact, you are probably one of the best things that has ever happened to your mom and your dad.  And they’ll love you as long as they live – and even longer.  But for a little child to have a mom and dad that don’t like each other, it’s very important for you to know that they still love you.”*
A divorce can be devastating for a child.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Studies show that where the parents keep the children out of the middle of their dispute, and where they are able to find a way to co-parent (in spite of their differences), then the children will likely turn out just fine.  However, this is easier said than done.  When a relationship falls apart, it is a difficult and emotional time, even for the strongest and best of us.  Fear, sadness, and anger are human emotions, and to struggle with these feelings during a divorce or separation is normal and natural.  But remember that while you, as an adult, are able to make sense of the situation and understand your feelings – a child (even a teenager) is not capable of doing so.  He or she is helpless, confused, and scared.  A child is likely to feel that the problem is, somehow, his or her fault, and often those confused feelings and a deep sense of hurt will result in defiant behavior.  Or worse.  Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ dispute can sometimes turn that anger and defiance inward, which may cause them to think or act in self-destructive ways.
While in the midst of a crumbing relationship, it is easy for even the most loving, caring parent to be temporarily blinded by fear and anger.  Arguing in front of the children, talking bad about the other parent in their presence, sharing inappropriate information about parental problems or a divorce case, forcing children to choose between parents, demonstrating violence – these are all things that can occur during a difficult divorce or separation.  But you, as a parent, must understand that this type of behavior can have long-term negative consequences for the children.  In fact, it can cause irreparable damage and change the course of their lives.  So, what can you do to prevent that from happening?
HOW TO KEEP CHILDREN SAFE AND SECURE
As difficult as it might be during this time of extreme stress, it is up to you to constantly remind yourself that you are the adult – you are the parent – and it is your responsibility to protect the best interests of your child.  Obviously, pretending that nothing is wrong is not the answer.  That would be dishonest and not-at-all helpful.  Your child knows that something is wrong.  Most experts will tell you that the best approach is to talk to the child in a reassuring and age-appropriate way.  The key is to let the child know:  “This is not your fault.  We are your parents and, even though we are having some grown-up problems right now, we both love you and we will always be there to take care of you.”  This is a message that every child needs to hear.  It provides a sense of protection and stability that will help the child to get through this difficult experience.
But what do you do if the other parent is incapable of protecting the child and keeping him or her out of the middle of the dispute?  Answer:  Then you be the adult.  Studies show that as long as there is one stable, responsible parent who is protecting the needs of the child, then that child will likely turn out fine.  You can be that parent.  It is difficult, I know, but somebody has to take on that role – so it might as well be you.
HELP IS OUT THERE
For a parent going through a difficult divorce, separation, or custody case, please be assured that there are places you can turn for assistance and support.  Therapeutic counseling, for you and/or the children, is often extremely helpful.  For a parent facing an acrimonious split, it can feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever experienced such a thing.  But a good therapist has helped hundreds or thousands of families with similar problems, and he or she has developed a broad range of solutions that can help you, too.  Your church or synagogue can be an enormous source of support.  And there are many divorce support groups out there with people who are going through the same thing that you are now.  Through these groups, you can receive not only ideas and support, but you may also develop lasting friendships.  If your child is having problems, it might be helpful to notify the school and let them know that the family is going through a separation or divorce.  An understanding teacher or administrator can be very supportive, and many schools have psychologists who can counsel the child at no cost to you.
HOW TO AVOID FUTURE PROBLEMS
I am a big believer in counseling during – and after – a divorce.  I often recommend “Post-Divorce Counseling” for my clients.  Co-parenting after a divorce can be a new and sometimes challenging experience.  There will be times when your child is spending extended periods of time with the other parent and, while you were able to be there to supervise when you were living together, you will now be unable to intervene or even know what is happening in the other parent’s home.  This can cause the fear and stress level to intensify, which can lead to anger and miscommunication.  The best remedy, in my opinion, is “Post-Divorce Counseling.”  This is where the parents meet with a counselor on a regular basis – maybe every 6 months or every year – to discuss issues regarding the children, and to make sure that the parents are “on the same page.”  I have found that this type of counseling can help parents feel confident that they are being heard and that the children’s needs are being addressed.  It also helps the parents avoid future disputes — an all-to-common problem that often results in more trips to the courthouse, which can be time-consuming, expensive, stressful, and destructive.   
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE OK
So, there is a reason to be optimistic.  Being the child of divorced parents is no longer a stigma.  Today, it is the norm.  If you will just make the effort to assure your children that they are loved, and that their parents will be always be there for them (even if the parents are no longer living together), then it is likely that the children will grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted.  If you are able to co-parent, or at least keep the children out of the middle of any disputes, then their future looks bright, indeed.

Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting issues in Family Court.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding divorce, child custody, or any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

* From the book “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers” by Amy Hollingsworth

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