Breaking up this summer? – how do you tell your children?

For many relationships under strain, the summer holidays are one of the key calendar events when spouses and partners realise it’s ‘make or break’ time.

Being forced to spend more time together than usual can further exacerbate existing tensions which often leave warring couples with the decision either to talk things through and make a go of it – or go their separate ways.

If it is the latter, how do you explain this to your children?  

Many adults can still vividly recall the moment when their parents dropped the bombshell that mum and dad were splitting up, as their most devastating childhood experiences. This is reflected in a recent blog when Hollywood actor, Tom Hanks, revealed that his parents’ divorce had had a lifelong effect on him – and still haunts him to this day.

How you handle such as sensitive and stressful situation at the outset can determine how well children cope with this overwhelming news – and prevent the painful experience from scarring them for life.

Here are seven steps to help your children cope and help to prevent the memory becoming a permanent chip on their shoulder:

  1. Tell the children what’s happening together, without blaming each other and stress that both of you still love them. Plan the time and location extremely carefully and ensure that you will all be together afterwards for questions and reassurance.
  2. Remember that when you separate, you both continue to be parents, so make sure that unravelling your relationship doesn’t stop you co-operating on what is best for your children. Children need security and certainty, so communicate regularly with them – and with each other – to plan ahead.
  3. Even when the break up is at its most challenging, never criticise your ex in front of them – they don’t want to hear it. Also, avoid asking them to take sides – because they definitely don’t want to do that either.
  4. Devise the most suitable living arrangements. Negotiation is vital, as agreements reached together are more likely to work in the long term and be respected by the wider family. One arrangement which is becoming more common in the UK is bird’s nest custody which sees children stay in the family home, while their parents move in and out on an agreed schedule to look after them.
  5. If you can’t agree on the arrangements, you can ask the court to decide the matter. However, before considering court, we advise that mediation be your first port of call. It is a far better option to have the assistance and support of a skilled mediator than the delay, costs and trauma of going to court.
    Always be flexible. Accept that children will want to see as much of both parents, grandparents, wider family and their friends as possible. Both parents should try to bring this about – even if it means one of you occasionally spends less time with your children.
  6. Whatever the situation, always put your children’s interest first – from the moment you break the devastating news to them – and throughout their journey and transition into teenagers and adults.

Collaborative lawyers like Jones Myers can refer you to counsellors, therapists and other family workers for extra support to help your children manage their feelings and cope with their parents’ split.

See our website for more details on children, contact and residence disputes. If you have any comments, queries or concerns on issues relating to children, leave a comment below, call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.

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