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How to protect your children during a divorce

November 12, 2018

Mother is holding her two children while sitting on the couch

How to protect your children during a divorce

You and your partner may have decided to part ways and get a divorce. Divorce is a complex, significant step to take, especially when you have children to consider as part of your decision-making process. Seeing a divorce lawyer can help you as you wade through the complexities of these issues.

All parents want the best for their children. This is true, whether you are going through a divorce or not. Research shows that divorce can have a negative impact on children’s social and emotional development, and if not managed well can have lasting consequences on their perception of marriage.

However, the good news is that you can get your children to prepare for the separation and help them deal with the resulting challenge.

If you are unsure of how to help your children navigate this complicated life situation, this article may give you some ideas of methods of protecting your children during divorce.

Breaking the News

Once you and your partner have made the decision to separate, you should have a conversation about when and how you are going to tell your children. It is ideal to have a direct discussion with your children and arrange for both parents to be present.

Before you talk with them, prioritise being calm and present. Try to ensure you don’t bring any anger and guilt into the conversation. It is easy to blame the other party when you are upset. However, you should try to be neutral and objective when communicating the news to your children. Blaming the other parent may lead your child to feel angry with the other parent – and the same can happen in reverse.

It is also possible that your children might feel frustrated and blame themselves. In that case, you should reassure them and explain why you and your partner decided to separate. If you remain as non-judgemental as you can, your children can still enjoy and love each parent as they do now.

It is also advisable to consider the age and temperament of your children before deciding how you will deliver them the news. For younger children, it is important for you to explain the situation to them in a language that they understand. For example, you could say, “Mummy and Daddy still love you, but we are going to live in different houses so we will not argue all the time.”

Storytelling can also be a good option, if you want to discuss feelings with your young children.

Remember, your children are capable of feeling the same way you do. They may worry that if the love between you and your partner can change, your love for them might change too. Provide them with reassurance and try to answer your children’s questions honestly. They may have many concerns, especially regarding what might change after the separation.

Handling the Children’s Reactions

As you may have already imagined, breaking the news to your children will likely make them upset. You should reassure your children that their feelings are valid. It is normal and fine for them to be sad or angry.

You or your former partner can offer further comfort to your children by saying, “We are sorry that we decided to not live with each other anymore, and we really love you.” Or try a different approach to help your children manage emotion, such as “I understand that you must be very sad about this news. What can we do to make you feel better?”

In some situations, children might be too shocked by the news and might not give you an immediate reaction. Sometimes, your children may act tough and pretend that everything is fine. Closely monitor and see if your children are affected and show any behavioural changes.

Some possible thoughts your children may worry about include:

  • “Who am I going to live with?”
  • “Do I have to move?”
  • “Will I go to a new school?”

Conversations around these topics may not all happen at once or only once. You should expect that your children will have more questions as time goes by. Both you and your former partner should be open to any dialogue that your children would like to have.

Helping Kids Cope

Often, children will may have some hope that their parents will get back together. This may be the case even if you and your partner fully explain to them the reasons for your separation. After giving your children time to process how your family structure will change, you can assure them that things will still be okay despite the family situation changing.

If you have younger children, they may not be able to express their emotions through language. You can help your children to name their emotions, in order to help them feel better. Try: “I know you are feeling sad and frustrated now. What makes you sad?”

Perhaps more important than finding the right words is patiently listening to them.

You may find it helpful to validate your children’s feelings and encourage them to express their emotions in different ways. Sometimes, you may be able to do things with your children to make them feel better. For example, take them to a park or watch their favourite cartoon with them.

Your children might also want to do things for your former partner while they are with you. Support your child if he or she wishes to call your former partner or draw them a picture; in pursuing these steps, they may feel better …

While Family Law specialists are able to give you logistical support during a divorce, your child’s mental health will inevitably be in the forefront of your mind. Pay attention to any behavioural changes, as they can signify how your children are coping with separation. Possible warning signs of mental health issues include reduced appetite, problems with sleep or at school, moodiness, and anxiety.

If you have older children, please also keep an eye on potential substance abuse of drugs and alcohol. It is dangerous for your children to use substances as a way to escape from the pain. If this is the case, you should reach out to professionals and get help.

You may find that assistance from a third party could become valuable to provide you or your children with emotional or psychological support as you move through various phases of your separation or divorce. Our practice has worked hard to identify qualified, experienced and well regarded partners who can meet with you to identify any external resources you require to meet your individual needs. In partnering with Paterson & Dowding, we able to extend to you the benefits of our networks and point you in the direction of experts in the field.

The Importance of Consistency

During life changing events such as separation and divorce, remaining consistent may be very helpful to provide comfort for your family members. A transition can cause a lot of anxiety; hence, it would be ideal if you could minimise any unnecessary schedule changes and keep things constant.

After a separation, you may not want to meet with your former partner again. However, it will help to have a discussion with him or her regarding how to co-parent. It is beneficial to resolve conflicts over the children’s schedule, finances, and schools before any problems arise. In doing so, your children can enjoy a smoother and more consistent transition.

Your children will benefit from having access to both parents and enjoying quality one-on-one time with each of you. Therefore, you should try your very best to accommodate any possible visits with your former partner. Arrangements like these should be carefully considered and planned. Although it may, for example, be convenient to arrange single overnight visits for your children at your former partner’s home, give thought to whether the children find it stressful moving from one house to another.

Arguing in Front of the Children

Even before a separation occurs, you may have already been arguing with your partner from time to time. Any kind of screaming, yelling, fighting, or violence can make your children feel worried, scared and insecure.

Continuing to argue in front of your children can set a bad example for them in terms of how to resolve conflicts t can affect how your children establish and maintain their own relationships in the future. Studies have shown that hostile and angry parents were more likely to have had a behavioural or emotional problem when they were young.

If you find it very challenging to have a civil conversation with your partner, consider getting professional help. A lawyer or counsellor may be able to guide you through this tough process. At the same time, you will not need to worry about your children witnessing bitterness in the house.

Stay Healthy

Although it is very important for you to take good care of your children during this difficult time, it is also important for you to take care of yourself while you care for and protect your children.

A separation is very stressful and it is a major life change. Apart from the children’s custody, other financial or logistical problems can also make you frustrated. You should keep yourself both physically and mentally healthy in order to properly cope with the stress.


Divorce is not an easy process. You might already be finding everything overwhelming, having spoken with to a divorce lawyer and trying to understand Family Law.

And then, it is challenging still to minimise the impact of separation and divorce on your children. Taking the steps outlined above may very well help you ensure your children can properly handle this life change.

Bear in mind that it is normal to feel frustrated during the separation. You should be hopeful that both you and your children can adapt to the new situation and live a happy life. Whilst maintaining a loving and positive attitude will not solve everything, it will provide a good model for your children to follow.

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