Divorce and telling the kids
As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a fan of the Huffington Post divorce blog, created by American writer Nora Ephron, with its mordant slogan ‘Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever’.
A new feature on the site polls readers on one of the most emotive elements of divorce – and let’s face it, there’s plenty of competition for that top spot! Should you tell your kids why you’re getting a divorce? is the challenging question posed.
There are many joys to parenthood, but childless couples do have one advantage – if that is the right word – over the childless friends and neighbours: if their relationship ends badly or they divorce acrimoniously, they need never see their ex again unless they wish to do so.
But if parents separate it’s a very different story. Mothers and fathers have to maintain some kind of relationship with their ex for the sake of their children, at least in most cases, even if they can only do so through gritted teeth. Their former partner may have been unfaithful or behaved badly, but they are still the children’s Mum or Dad, with all that implies. Every child deserves a relationship of some kind with both their parents, whether biological or adopted, if it is at all possible.
We all know that divorce is a delicate topic for children, and a split can be news that leaves them reeling. Even adults, for whom their parents’ relationship has been a constant for decades, may be left questioning their childhoods and wondering if that relationship was ever truly real.
So how do you answer that dreaded but inevitable follow-up question: why? Do you tell children the unvarnished truth, or do you gloss over unpleasant details and stress the key facts that the split was not their fault and their parents still love them?
Huffington Post readers chime in with a variety of views. One writes:
“My son is only 1 1/2, but when he is old enough I will simply say it just didn’t work out. I think it’s his dad’s job to tell him when he is old enough that he moved another women into our house while I was deployed. Thank God he isn’t old enough to ever remember.”
For others, meanwhile truth is all important and they insist that they will not sugarcoat or lie to their kids, as long as they old enough to understand.
Personally, I can see the virtues of the both approaches, but I do think it is important to think very carefully about what you say and how you say it.
Nowadays there is an increasing understanding of the importance to children’s welfare of not badmouthing the other parent. That does not mean just now rowing with them in front of the children, but not criticising them in front of the kids at any point, unless you have a very good reason to do so. For children, especially younger ones, their parents are part of who they are. If you lay into your ex-partner, you will also be, on some level, badmouthing your children too and they will perceive this, even if only subconsciously.
As I wrote in my book Divorce and Splitting Up: Advice from a Top Divorce Lawyer:
“Don’t put any pressure on your children to take sides. To subject them to this would be bordering on abuse. A child with torn loyalties to parents can grow up scarred and confused.”
Photo by dvs via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
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Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
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