After a divorce in Texas, one of the court’s top priorities is protecting the well-being of children. The court takes this duty so seriously that it developed the Texas Children’s Bill of Rights. The bill provides clear language about the rights of children who have two homes. The overriding goal: to protect the relationships children have with both sides of their family and prevent them from being caught up in their parents’ drama.
Highlights of the Texas Children’s Bill of Rights
Living in two homes can be confusing for a child. It’s even harder when their parents don’t get along. While getting divorced is a choice, protecting the welfare of children is not. The Children’s Bill of Rights establishes the rights reserved by children, and the rules that either parent must follow to defend them.
As Tarrant County family law attorneys, we know how difficult it can be when a child is dragged through a divorce. It’s often one parent who acts carelessly and makes the situation worse. If this describes your co-parent, contact a Fort Worth attorney from Sabelhaus + Lynch. Whether you need legal questions or services, our family law experts are here for you.
You Cannot Undermine Your Co-Parent
If the Texas Children’s Bill of Rights has a theme, it’s this: you cannot knowingly undermine your co-parent. For example, you can’t badmouth your child’s other parent or relatives. Additionally, you must prevent your child from overhearing arguments or negotiations about your legal or business dealings.
In other words, neither parent can actively attempt to make their child a partner in contempt after their divorce. You must deny these urges and cooperate to the greatest extent possible for the good of the child.
You Must Allow Phone Calls and Correspondence
Neither parent can interfere with communications between the child and the parent who isn’t physically there. You must allow the child to receive or access phone calls, letters and gifts from the other parent. The reason? To make sure that children who live in two homes are able to stay connected to both of their families at any given time.
You Cannot Manipulate Your Child
Neither parent may manipulate their children into thinking their other parent loves them less. Additionally, they can’t communicate moral judgements that aim to make their child think less of their other parent. Some parents do this hoping it will help in their child custody arguments/negotiations. in reality, this strategy often has the opposite effect.
You Must Permit the Child to Display Photographs
Children of divorce often take comfort in having photographs of relatives and loved ones nearby. Neither parent shall deny their children from displaying photos or other cherished mementos in their room. Parents must respect the physical integrity and personal space of their child and allow them to display reasonable items that bring them happiness.
Parents Must Support Each Other
You might not want to engage with your fellow parent, but the Texas court system holds that you must support them to the greatest extent practicable. In other words, you must cooperate with your ex and not deny your children’s wish to have a relationship with them.
Specifically, neither parent shall deny that their children should spend time with their other parent. And neither parent shall make the child feel guilty for having a positive experience.
You Cannot Encourage the Child to Behave Poorly
In some joint custody arrangements, it’s common for one parent to instruct their children to misbehave in their other parent’s home. Rewarding negative behavior in an attempt to sabotage your child’s relationship with your ex-spouse or their relatives will simply not be tolerated.
You Must Respect Boundaries of Your Child
Parents must respect that children are children. An adult should not use a child as an agent for gathering information, or an intermediary for communicating with your ex. You must respect emotional boundaries and refrain from making inappropriate comments about your ex that attempt to pressure your child or children into thinking less of their other parent.
You Must Be Responsible Around Your Child
Children have a right to be safe and free from exposure to illegal or potentially harmful activities. Specifically, neither parent shall permit their child to be transported by a person who is intoxicated due to consumption of alcohol or illicit drugs. Additionally, neither parent shall smoke tobacco products inside a home or vehicle occupied at the time by the child.
The Children’s Bill of Rights in Texas is very clear about protecting children after a divorce. If your ex-spouse is violating any of these laws, take action to defend your child or children. Contact our affordable Tarrant County family lawyers for a free consultation.
Violating Children’s Bill of Rights
The court takes seriously its duty to protect the welfare of children. The judge can impose harsh penalties for parents who ignore or violate the Texas Children’s Bill of Rights. Penalties may include costly fines; in some cases parents can even be held in contempt.
Failure to acknowledge and adhere to legal responsibilities could ultimately result in loss of shared custody or access time. This would likely only happen if the aggrieved party petitions for a court order modification.
Hire Experienced Fort Worth Family Lawyers
A parent’s right to protect their children is sacred and absolute. If your co-parent is violating your child’s rights, it’s important to engage an experienced Near Southside Fort Worth attorney. Our law firm will review your situation, communicate your legal options and provide you with top representation for a reasonable price. It’s time to act. Contact us or complete the form on our site today to schedule a free consultation. You’ll be happy with your choice to consult with our award-winning Tarrant County family law practice.
When the courts decide which parent will gain custody of the children, a judge will often consider which parent the children prefer. Over time, those preferences can change. There is a myriad of circumstances that may lead a child to want to change homes and live with the other parent. This ranges from serious conflict in the home to a desire for a different lifestyle or a more attractive school option. In addition to the emotional toll such a change in the parenting time schedule may trigger, there’s also a deluge of legal procedures you may encounter when a child wants to change custody. The important –– and easiest –– way to make sure the transition goes smoothly is to stay in communication.
Talk To Your Children
Before making such a life-altering decision, it’s important to talk to your children and take their concerns seriously, even if it’s a painful conversation to have. Short of abuse or neglect, your children need to understand that their opinions matter to you. You should also establish some ground rules for this important discussion.
Find out if your children are making an emotional, split-second decision or if they’ve had a custody change on their minds for a long time. Parents should consider how they would perceive the situation through the eyes of their children, especially in the wake of a divorce.
Sometimes your children may have gotten into a disagreement with one parent. They might have got disciplined in a way that they did not like. Their friends might be attending another school that your child wants to attend as well, and staying with the other parent will allow them to do so. Your children may feel they do not have enough parenting time with you under the current agreement and want to live with you. Other times, there can be abuse or neglect in their home.
Discuss With The Other Parent
People who have a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent may be able to work out the situation as a family. In some cases, they may opt for mediation or counseling to improve the situation. In other families, of course, discussing this with the other parent may mean contacting an attorney and letting the courts step in. A family law attorney can work with a parent to reach a fair settlement on custody issues and pursue changes to the parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.
If you can agree on the change in custody with the other parent, you will need the judge to approve the modification. However, it will be a much smoother process. If both of you cannot agree, you will have to file a case. You will have to have an attorney plead your case for you in court so that the judge can decide whether to modify the order. It’s possible for you to change a child custody order even if the other parent doesn’t agree. It will be much more difficult to do so.
Problems With Not Making A Modification Order
It might be tempting to agree on a new child custody arrangement without the trouble of going to court. This comes up often if you and your ex are amicable co-parents. However, if your child lives with you without the approval of the courts, both of you might be found in contempt and be penalized.
The new plan that you and your ex have would also not be enforceable by the court. If your ex reneges on the agreement, you would not be able to hold them accountable for it if you did not get a legal modification. It is within your ex’s rights to take you to court for contempt when you have the child live with you without the approval of the courts.
You must request for legal modifications to your child custody orders and schedule to protect your rights.
The court will typically not allow any changes to the child custody order within one year of the current order. However, you can ask for a modification within one year if:
The child’s physical and emotional health is in danger in their current environment
The parent who has primary custody allowed someone else to have primary possession and care of the child for at least 6 months, except if the parent is on active military deployment
The parent with primary custody is agreeable to the change
If the other parent does not agree to modify the custody arrangement, you must wait until a year has passed from the current order unless you can prove one of the other conditions above. You can consult with your legal advisors for specific help and advice.
Reason For Changing Child Custody
The court will only approve a change to the current child custody order if there is a material change in circumstances for the child or the parent. Without a compelling reason, the courts will not relook at the case to determine the outcome that will be in the best interests of the children.
If you want to change your child custody order, you will need to prove that it is in the best interests of your child and that one of the conditions below is valid:
A child wants to change custody and is at least 12 years old
The custodial parent allowed someone else to take over primary care and possession of the child for at least six months. The only exception is if they were on active military deployment
A major change in circumstances for the parents of the child
Below are the major changes in circumstances that the court will consider when deciding whether to modify a child custody order.
Your Child’s Wishes
The judge will consider some of the following factors:
Age and maturity of your child
The consideration that your child has put into their decision when a child wants to change custody and live with the other parent
The reasons they provide on why they want to make a modification to the current orders
Depending on your child’s age, your child may not attend the hearing itself. Instead, the court will gather testimony from their counselors or guardians as evidence.
Moving Out Of State
Your child might want to change the custody arrangement if the custodial parent is moving out of state, and your child is keen to live with you to continue going to his or her current school and see their friends. Other times, your child might want to follow a non-custodial parent moving out of state because they can change schools.
The court will only consider modifying custody orders on grounds of moving under certain conditions. The conditions include if the child will experience a significant benefit from changing custody or if the move would make the existing custody and visitation schedule impractical.
One Parent Does Not Follow Custody Terms
Your child might want to get a change of custody and live with you if they’re not seeing you as much as they should. The other parent might not be on time when returning your child or not be keeping you informed on key decisions about your children. They might be extending their parenting time without your approval.
You will need to provide notice to the other parent. Furthermore, you should show that their failure to comply with custody terms is not in the child’s best interests. An experienced family law attorney can help you to build your legal case based on the failure to comply with the existing agreement.
Your Child’s Needs Have Significantly Changed
Your child may be asking for a change in custody as their needs change. They might want a change in environment. As your children get older, the court will put greater weight on their wishes about which parent they want to live with. You will need to prove that your child’s needs have changed or that they are unhappy at the other parent’s house.
In some cases, your child may have developed a medical condition that one parent is better suited to care for. The court might consider it as a valid reason to change custody when a child wants to do so.
Parents Change in Circumstances
If one parent changed jobs and the change in schedule is affecting their parenting time with the children, the child might request for a change in the custody arrangement.
Sometimes there could be changes such as the non-custodial parent moving back to town. A parent who formerly struggled with alcohol addiction might have been sober for a few years and held down a stable job for two years. The parent may request a modification to increase their parenting time with their child.
The Child Is in Danger
There could have been a change in circumstances for the custodial parent that causes them to become abusive or neglect the child. They could have started abusing alcohol or drugs. Alternatively, they could have put the child in danger by displaying erratic behavior, having psychotic breaks, or be hospitalized frequently due to their actions.
If your child wants to change custody because of their concerns, you should file a motion with the court. This is given that you have a case to show that the child’s best interest is being compromised. If your child is presently in danger while remaining in the custodial parent’s home, call the police for help.
How Do You Ask The Court For Custody Order Modifications?
You will need to file a motion with the family law court. While you don’t have to hire a lawyer to modify custody orders according to Texas law, you might still want to engage one. An attorney can provide you legal advice and help you prepare your case. They can also explain your rights to you and plan the next steps.
Next, you must ensure that the other parent is served the motion. Sometimes a social worker evaluation is required. Otherwise, you will be told that you must attend mediation to help you come to an amicable resolution. If both parents cannot come to an agreement, the social worker or mediator will help to write a report to the judge about whether they recommend the judge to modify the custody order.
Both parents must attend the scheduled hearing. You can present your evidence and case before the judge would make the final decision.
How Easy Is It To Change A Custody Agreement?
If you and the other parent agree on the change in the child custody agreement, it can be very easy to modify the custody agreement. This is provided that it is in the child’s best interest.
It can get more complicated with the other parent does not agree with the modification. You will need to gather evidence and information on significant changes in circumstances. In most cases, you would also engage an attorney to help fight your case for you.
Implications Of Modification On Child Support
If you change a custody order and your child support payments were based on parenting time, the court will adjust the payment upon the issue of new parenting time orders.
There might also be changes in child support obligations when primary custody switches from one parent to the other. The parent taking over custody could have a lower child support obligation.
It’s easy to request modifications from the court if both parents agree on the new arrangements. This is as long as the plan is in the child’s best interests. Changing custody arrangements and parenting time can become more than a simple matter when both parents don’t agree on the new arrangement. You will have to present evidence to the court during a hearing to show the change in circumstances and why the court should modify the agreement.
It can be complicated to file a motion and prepare a legal case. The new arrangements will have an implication on child support and the daily routines of the parents and the child. Let the award-winning Family Law experts at Sabelhaus and Lynch help you prepare your legal case. We can provide you with information about your rights.
The distance can be tough for divorced parents and their children. It might seem impossible to maintain strong long-distance bonds with children after divorce when you’re so many miles away. You have to make sure what precious little time you do have with your children is quality. Your time together should be mostly one-on-one, and try and keep the focus on your children, their lives, and feelings.
Even if a parent has a regular phone time scheduled, mom or dad can still call outside of those scheduled times. A non-custodial parent can also send postcards, emails, texts, and use social media to stay in contact with their children. Any contact with the children of a divorce should maintain a positive tone such as about specific events in a child’s life, like a test or a sporting event. These little gestures will remind a child that their parent loves them, and they’ll feel closer thanks to the communication.
Here are some tips to maintain long-distance bonds with children after a divorce when you live miles away from them.
Work With The Custodial Parent
It’s extremely important to work with the custodial parent to maintain strong bonds with your children, although you don’t enjoy communicating with each other. Both parents must agree on the importance of having their children maintain good relationships with both parents after the divorce. The last thing you want is one parent who isn’t committed to making it work.
If the other parent keeps you updated about medical appointments, competitions, important milestones for your kids and their day-to-day activities, you’ll be able to talk to your kids about it, helping you to stay connected to them even if you’re away from them.
It will also help if the other parent supports your children in planning activities with you, calling you outside of the planned calling time, and sharing the little things in their lives with you so you can strengthen your relationship.
Create A Long-Distance Parenting Plan
If you’re doing long-distance parenting after divorce, you often need to plan your children’s schedule and expenses in advance since they have to travel. The plan should cover:
Their transportation to and from your home
Who will travel with young children
How long and when they will stay with the long-distance parent
Who will pay for their travel expenses.
A long-distance parenting plan will also cover when and how the long-distance parent can contact the children to maintain their relationship.
However, keep in mind that long-distance parenting plans can change as your children grow up and their needs change. Older children can find the original co-parenting arrangements too restrictive. As a result, many parents often have to make a change to the original parenting plan. Make sure that your parenting plan is age-appropriate and can adapt to the needs of your kids at their age.
When you create a long-distance parenting plan with your co-parent, you need to be sure that you’ll still be able to maintain healthy and regular communication with your kids with reasonable visitation to your home.
Components Of A Long-Distance Parenting Plan
It should be clear on how long and how frequently your children will visit you. Provide for any special arrangements during vacations, special events, and holidays.
You may also want to include how frequently the custodial parent should contact you. Note any ground rules for respectful communication between the two of you in your co-parenting arrangement. Write down every key aspect of decision making you and your ex should make together as parents. Include current contact information between parents. This can foster strong family relationships between you and your children while maintaining open communication channels with your co-parent.
Parenting plans can also clearly state that the custodial parent should keep you updated on important details about the children and provide information about their activities, friends, teachers, and school performance.
The long-distance parenting plan is an important document that protects your rights to be a part of your kids’ lives. This is especially important since it’s harder to stay in touch when you live a distance away. This will define the rules of your co-parenting relationship so you get to see and talk to your children.
Schedule a regular time for a video chat or phone call with your children. Use Skype, Zoom, or Facetime Ask them what’s the best way they feel you can stay in touch with them. Having structure can help your kids get used to connecting with you. Both of you will know the next time when you can talk to each other. Stick to these scheduled calls and chats as much as possible. to provide that consistency to your children even when you are away from them.
If your ex finds a new partner after the divorce, that may make you feel unimportant or replaced. This can be more apparent if your children are close with the new partner. However, you should not give up and remain in regular contact with your child to maintain your family relationship. They can still feel close to you.
Don’t just rely on regular calls and video chats as a long-distance parent. You can surprise your kids with thoughtful gifts on special events or record videos for them to watch later. This reminds your kids that you’re always thinking about them even if you don’t see them every day, which will reassure them of your love.
You can agree to send each other one TikTok video about a new thing you’re doing every week. If you’re going on a road trip or traveling abroad, take photos or videos to send them. Ship a souvenir if it makes sense. You can make it a tradition to send them a T-shirt or souvenir with the name of the destination, or collect hotel shampoos and soaps for them to use during camps and sleepovers. Form new traditions with them as that can strengthen your relationships.
Sometimes parents can feel like they have to shower kids with expensive gifts to compensate for the time away. Avoid doing so as your children may start to expect gifts each time you see them.
Keep Track Of The Details Of Your Children’s Lives
Write down what the other parent tells you about your children’s lives. This allows you to ask your kids about it or quickly get up to speed about what they’re sharing with you. This can show you’re more engaged, care about what’s happening in your children’s lives and love them even if you don’t have as much time with your children.
Follow your child on social media. Be sure to sign up for email lists for their school, sports team, or clubs so you can consistently get new information updates.
Your child may be comfortable if you connect with them on the Find Friends app so you can see where they are. If they have concerts or events with a live stream broadcast, you can watch it on the day and send them messages about it immediately after, as if you were there.
You Don’t Have To Talk All The Time
Even if there isn’t anything to talk about, being on video chat with your kids and doing things together can be a good way to bond. You might not be able to casually sit next to your children at home or invite them out as a long-distance parent to stay close to them. A video chat can be an alternative.
Sometimes you may have something to talk about, sometimes you don’t, and a one-way conversation might be awkward. Knowing you’re spending time together can be enough to show you love them and maintain long-distance bonds with children after divorce.
Let Them Know You’re Available
Let your children know they can call you to chat when they’re bored or waitin. Make it a point to pick up their calls when you can. This can create an expectation that they can talk to you anytime both of you are free, although they don’t have a particular reason to want to talk to you at the moment. This can create stronger relationships and close family bonds between both of you.
Maintaining Long-Distance Bonds With Children After Divorce
Long-distance parents should find out what their children’s interests are and try to engage with them. They should also get to know their children’s school friends and friends’ parents. This is not just a way to be more involved in the children’s lives. It will also increase the likelihood that those friends would be allowed to accompany the children on outings with non-custodial parents. With these tips you can connect to your children although you had to move away from them or the other way round.
If parents have to go to court to have a judge make a decision about the schedule for child custody and visitation after the divorce, the judge will determine what would be in the best interests of the child. However, it is not always necessary to go to court. Parents who are negotiating a custody agreement can also use the child’s best interests as their criteria. Even if one parent does not move away, the child custody schedule may need modification over time as children get older and their needs change. You may need to contact an attorney to iron out the details and protect your interests during divorce.
If you need help, the award-winning Family Law experts at Sabelhaus and Lynch help you prepare your legal case to protect your rights to be a part of your children’s lives as a long-distance parent.
Does co-parenting and being friends always make sense? It’s great to get along with your ex, especially if you’re co-parenting. However, maintaining civility and communicating as parents in no way suggests that you should be best friends. After all, you already tried that. Setting healthy boundaries and staying in constant, productive communication will help your children and your sanity level.
Hopefully, you and your ex discussed how you want to raise your child before having him/her. If not, you should have that conversation. If you want to raise your child to be empathetic, you should seek out literature on attachment-style parenting and ensure both parents understand the various nuances. Being an effective attachment-style parent doesn’t mean you have to be buddies with your co-parent. You just have to stay on message.
In some cases, trying to be friends may lead to arguments between people. In other cases, refusing to be friends may cause the relationship to become more hostile. It’s different for everyone. Try to treat your ex the same way that you would want your child to treat someone they have just met. That means staying polite and considerate, rather than necessarily staying dependent on one another.
Tips For Successful Co-Parenting When You Are Not Friends
You can be successful co-parents even if you don’t get along. There is no right or wrong way of co-parenting if both of you put your kids first. Here are some tips you should know to make it work.
Treat It Like A Business Relationship
Both of you have the same goals. They include raising your child well and being there for all the important milestones of their lives. Even though the marriage between two people has ended, they may still have a civil relationship. It can be complicated if there was a lot of tension and resentment in the relationship.
Treat your relationship like a business. Restrict your communication to email or text message. You don’t have to meet them face-to-face if you don’t want to. Your ex is on a need-to-know basis. While you should agree on important decisions regarding your child with them, you don’t have to get their permission for everything. This can reduce bitterness if you don’t take the interactions with them so personally.
While you and your ex-partner may have agreed on a schedule, be flexible if they have to change it. Sometimes you may also have to compromise such as having a Thanksgiving dinner with your ex-partner if your child wants to spend time with both parents during a special event.
Let things go and don’t nitpick on everything your co-parent does because of frustration that has built up over the years of marriage life. That will facilitate calm and civil conversations whether you’re at an event together for your kids or coordinating with them on changes to the schedule.
You may not approve of the different parenting styles your ex-husband or ex-wife uses. However, if they have your child’s best interests at heart, don’t assume that they are in the wrong. Find a way to see the good in the decisions they are making for your kids.
Never talk badly about the other person in front of your children. This can alienate your child and affect your relationship with them. Your children can also feel helpless and insecure in the face of conflict between parents which can affect their emotional development and self-esteem.
Be United In Front Of The Kids
Respect the rules that your co-parent has set even if you don’t agree with all of them. In turn, your co-parent will respect yours. This consistency will prevent kids from playing both of you off each other, or demanding their way because the other parent would have let them do what they wanted at their home.
Sometimes you may have situations where you need to support your ex. For example, your child may be attending the other parent’s birthday party and need to get them a gift. Even if you can’t stand the thought of buying a gift for your ex, you are going to need to put your emotions aside and help them out so that your child can build their relationship with the other person. Your child needs to have a sense of family even if the two of you are divorced. Do what is best for your kids, even if you’re not friends while co-parenting.
Have Open Lines of Communication
A divorced couple still has to communicate if they have a child. You are going to need to communicate with them regularly about issues at school, concerns about your children, and the logistics of where they are and which home they are staying at for the week.
If you do disagree with your ex about something, never make the argument personal, and be respectful. Find a way to see the good in your ex-husband or ex-wife. Don’t ignore your ex if they are trying to talk to you about the children you have together.
Set Boundaries With Your Ex
Do not allow your ex to have plans with the kids on your time unless it has already been agreed upon beforehand. Do not let your ex-husband or ex-wife badger you with questions about your personal life and family after you are divorced. Even if you’re in a co-parenting relationship, you are allowed to set your boundaries with other people.
If one of you has not moved on from the past relationship, this can harm the co-parenting relationship. Even small decisions about your child can escalate into full-blown conflict. You may first need to take some time for yourself to reflect on the relationship and move on from someone who has hurt you or you have hurt.
Being Friends While Co-Parenting
What if you are on good terms with your ex and still have a deep friendship? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to co-parent while being friends. This is as long as the two of you are comfortable being friends and there are no one-sided romantic feelings between people. A friendship can mean it will be so much easier to discuss issues about your child. Disagreements can be a lot more manageable. It’s easier to find a way to make it work.
However, issues can arise when new romantic partners come up. If one of you has a new girlfriend or boyfriend, they may feel second-place to your children and your ex. On the other hand, they may feel uncomfortable if you talk to your ex about personal matters. It can also complicate things if they perceive your ex to still be in love with you.
It can also confuse your kids who might think that their parents are going to get back together even after the divorce because they get along so well. Other times, your kids may feel like they are second-place to your new partner and the new family you may build even if you love them very much.
It’s important to have open communication with your new romantic partner, your ex, and your kids. Ask yourself first if you have any additional motives for being friends with your ex other than for your kids and if you could still be in love with them. Ensure you’re aware of how your romantic partner feels about the fact that you and your former spouse are friends.
Children In A Co-Parenting Relationship
It’s only natural that your children will want you and your ex to get back together, or at the very least stay close friends. Without over-sharing, it’s okay to tell your kids that you’d rather not spend time with your ex. For example, you might say, “I’m not ready to spend time with your other parent right now, but I know that they’ll be very happy to spend time with you.”
If parents always appeased their child’s emotions, they’d eat pizza for breakfast and ice cream for dinner. However, it is important to be very in-tune with how your child is feeling throughout the separation process.
Try to keep an open mind about discussing your divorce with your kids. By staying in touch with your child’s emotions, you and your ex can try to maintain a relationship that makes your child comfortable.
However, don’t make the mistake of treating your kids as a friend. This sometimes happens when there isn’t another adult in the house. While you can give them a choice to pick the food they like and their clothes, you probably shouldn’t let them decide important issues such as whether they should go to school or where they should live.
Ultimately, divorce keeps a child from watching their parents struggle through an unhappy marriage. It’s important to try to keep your parenting relationship with your ex from falling into the same traps as your marriage. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be friends while co-parenting.
Discussions about child custody arrangements during a divorce process are extremely important for successful co-parenting in the new normal for your family. Our Family Law experts at Sabelhaus and Lynch have years of experience and can provide you with advice on your case.
The emotional toll of a divorce is ten-fold for children, who crave consistency and constant emotional support. During a child’s formative years, when she is still forming an attachment with her parents, something as traumatic as a divorce can permanently alter the course of a child’s emotional development if the parents don’t take steps to support them. This can make talking to your children about divorce a difficult conversation.
Children want to know that both parents will still be there for them. In the best-case scenario, you and your ex can sit down with your children and have a conversation about the divorce, while reassuring them that they are your foremost priority. Just as the case was when you were married, it’s important to make parenting decisions with your ex and present a unified front. Don’t make unrealistic promises that will leave your children feeling let down if you can’t deliver.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Divorce
Here are some tips on telling your kids about divorce.
Tell Your Kids When The Decision Is Final
Don’t tell your kids that you are considering a separation or divorce until you know for sure. Children need certainty about what their future holds. You may want to wait until 2 to 3 weeks before the divorce to tell them.
You also need to ensure that your parenting custody exchange plans are in place as quickly as possible so you can tell them immediately after breaking the news. This will provide stability during a time of constant and rapid change.
Choose a day when you can have family time together to tell your children, like the weekend. Don’t break the news on a holiday, a special event, before school or before their bedtime. You need to be near to your children because this is the time when they will need you the most. Reassure them and be there for them emotionally as they process the news.
Your children will likely have a lot of questions, and you need to let them ask.
They should also feel able to discuss their feelings with you. Whatever you do, don’t diminish or dismiss what they are feeling. Acknowledge their emotions, and encourage them to use “I feel” statements. They may have feelings of shock, anger, sadness, or even guilt if they think they caused the problems at home.
Tell Your Children Together
You and your spouse should tell your children together even if you often disagree. This will avoid confusion for your children and show that it was a decision that both of you made together.
If you get upset and angry around your spouse, ask a mediator or counselor to help facilitate the conversation with everyone in the room including both parents.
Make sure to avoid blaming each other in front of your child. Otherwise, your children may feel they have to side with one parent against the other or that the divorce was their fault. If your child feels that they caused the divorce, they may think that there is a chance that their parents can get back together.
Use simple terms that your children will understand and that are appropriate for their age. Be as straightforward as you can. If you have children of different ages, talk to them together. However, you may want to have a separate conversation with the older children later. The last thing you want is for your kids to hear the news from a sibling.
Your children will look to you to see how to responsibly and constructively cope with stressful changes. Try to remain calm when they are around. This models for them how to be able to do the same. For this reason, you should save discussions about contentious matters for times when you and your ex are alone instead of attempting to have them when the kids are around.
Handling An Emotional Conversation
Telling your kids that you and your spouse are making the decision to get a divorce can be a very emotional and difficult conversation. If parents cry, acknowledge that it is a sad thing. Tell your kids all of you love each other and will help to support each other.
You and your spouse need to make sure to work as a team as much as possible. If one parent starts to become angry or upset the children, the other parent should help to mitigate the situation. Let your child know that Dad or Mom is upset, call for a break, and agree to talk again later. Let your kids know that things will get easier with time and empathize with their feelings about the upcoming changes.
Tell Them The Plan
Your child will have questions about how things will change after you talk to your children about divorce. This includes where they will live, where they will go to school, who will take care of them and who will be moving out, and how often they will get to see the parent who moves out.
Be prepared with the answers. Tell your child any custody and visitation schedule you have already planned with your spouse. Tell them if Dad or Mom will leave the home and who will live with them. This will help your child prepare for the changes especially if they have to go back and forth between two houses. Be honest if there are things that you don’t know.
Keep reassuring your child that your decision to get a divorce has nothing to do with them. Your child can still love both Mom and Dad equally without feeling like they are betraying one parent. Be patient with them about the different feelings they might experience that includes sadness, worry, and anger. Let them know that you and your spouse will always be their Mom and Dad who loves them even though all of you may not be living together.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t promise your kids that you won’t have to move if you are not certain about it yet. Instead, focus on things you know will remain the same, like going to their current school and still being able to hang out with their friends.
Avoid Blaming Each Other
Keep any details about financial issues or extramarital affairs to yourself. Don’t blame your spouse or say that the divorce is someone’s fault. Your children may feel conflicted about being caught between both parents and seeing parents fight can be damaging for kids. Use “we” to show that you and your spouse made the decision together. You can say, “We tried to work out our differences but we could not.”
It’s ideal to keep to regular family routines, including treating the other parent respectfully. Your children are going through the difficult process of trying to understand how things will change after the divorce. If you can help them see that some things remain the same, they can adapt and adjust better to their parents living apart over time.
Don’t Tell Your Kids The Details
You do not need to let them know the details about why you want to get a divorce, or even the specifics of the divorce process no matter their age. Do not leave divorce papers around where kids can find them or talk about legal issues where kids can overhear.
Your kids might still ask you more questions about why you are going to get a divorce. Have a general explanation, like “We are not getting along very well and are tired of fighting”, or “We each want different things and have decided to separate for the next phase of our lives”. Emphasize the important point that you want to remain a part of your kids’ lives. They need to know you love them very much because you are their parents, even though both you and your spouse are happier apart.
Maintain Consistent Routines
Try to provide as much structure as you can for your kids during this time. This can help them feel more comfortable and familiar and cope better with the change. Don’t stop your children from spending time with the other parent as one-on-one time is important. Try to accommodate your ex as much as you can. Your kids also need to see that you and your spouse are committed to them as parents and all of you are still part of the same family.
Watch For Unusual Behavior Changes
After talking to your children about divorce, your children might start to exhibit anger, defiance, or clinginess. They may start to sleep poorly or feel sad. Sometimes they can say they don’t feel anything about the divorce. However, kids may just not know how to express their emotions. Their moods may change frequently but do not take it personally. Your school-age kids may also try to escape by going out with their friends more often and spend less time at home.
Sometimes they may ask you plenty of questions and sometimes they don’t seem to hear you at all. You may need to reassure your child who asks questions repeatedly. They are often asking more questions to test if their parents really care. Be patient with them.
Encourage your child who does not say anything about how they are feeling to express how they feel at any time, even if they seem to be pushing you away. Take a walk or read stories together so you can be there for them. Hugs and pats on the shoulder can reassure your children that you love them.
Talk to your kids about how they are doing or feeling once every few days. However, avoid pestering them about their feelings. You might ask them if they spoke to anyone and what they think they can do if they’re feeling sad or thinking about the change taking place in the family.
When your kids have had some time to process the news and they seem to be feeling more stable about it, talk to your kids about what they already know about divorce. They may have heard some things from friends or other people they know whose Mommy and Daddy are divorced. This is an opportunity to reassure them about unrealistic worries they may have about divorce while learning what they’re hearing about divorce from other kids.
Take Care Of Yourself
You may be under a lot of stress due to the divorce process which can involve discussions about custody and property division. Keep yourself healthy physically and mentally so that you can support your kids. You may also have your own anger and sadness about the separation from your spouse to process. Join a support group or talk to trusted friends and family about what you are feeling.
Older kids may want to provide you emotional support, but they should not be your main source of support and they should not have to take care of you.
Sometimes you may need to enlist the help of a mental health professional to vent to and process your emotions. You may also need to get professional help if your kids are not coping well.
Let Trusted Adults Know About The Divorce
Let the adults around the children like their teachers or school counselors know that you are getting a divorce. They need to know this information so that they can keep a lookout and be prepared if your children exhibit a change in behavior. However, make sure they do not talk to the children about divorce unless your kids mention it themselves.
What Do You Say To Your Child When You Are Getting A Divorce?
If you are talking to your kids about divorce, do it together with your spouse. Tell them, “We have decided that we do not want to continue being married to each other and we can’t live together anymore”. Emphasize that this is an adult decision by both parents and does not have anything to do with the children. Tell them that both parents will always love them as their Mom and Dad even if you and your spouse have decided to live apart.
It’s important to tell them what changes to expect, who will take care of them, and how frequently they can expect to see the other parent. Don’t make a promise about something that you aren’t sure of yet. However, telling them what won’t change can provide them with some certainty.
It can be difficult to talk to your children about divorce and help them cope with the changes to the family now that Dad and Mom are not living together. The award-winning Family Law experts at Sabelhaus and Lynch can help to advise you on how to maintain the best interests of your children.