How to talk to your children about divorce

  • By Gabriel Morales
  • 14 Aug, 2017

by Lisa Herrick, Ph.D.
Here are some general suggestions for telling the children about the divorce or separation. Research over the last five years has revealed that over 75% of divorcing parents talk to their children about this change in the family for less than ten minutes – total. This guide is meant to help YOU be one of the parents in the healthiest 25 percent. Children need to talk about this, and they need to hear about it. Even if they say they don’t want to do either.
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Tell children approximately 2-3 weeks prior to separation. Have a plan – at least the basics – before you tell them.

1. If possible talk to children together as a couple, with both parents prepared to work as a team, and convey unified caring and concern — try to prepare to do this when you are unlikely to lose temper, or become angry with each other.

2. Talk to children in a quiet space when there is nothing that needs to be done afterwards. Weekends are best — if possible at the start of a weekend so you will be around for them to talk to or be close to during the immediate days after the talk.

3. Tell their teachers the day before you tell the kids, to prepare the teachers for potential upset or acting up. Ask teachers to be sensitive, and discreet with the information – you are asking them to be understanding, but NOT to ask the children anything about it, or mention it unless the child mentions it.

4. When parents talk to the children, there are a few really important messages to repeat over and over again – during the conversation, and in the months following:

a. this is something mom and dad have decided after a long time of trying to make things work better.

b. this is an adult decision and has NOTHING to do with anything the children did or said; help the children understand they also cannot control this decision to separate/divorce by behaving “extra nicely”.

c. no one is blaming anyone else — the children are free to continue loving each parent fully without fear of betraying other parent or feeling disloyal (this may be the toughest challenge for many parents, but it is CRUCIAL if you want to protect the children from pain and maladjustment).

d. a lot of different feelings are normal — we all will feel sad, angry, worried, and maybe curious about the future — all feelings are normal – parents welcome listening to all feelings and will try to help the children no matter how they feel.

e. we are still a family – we are just changing. We will still be your mom and dad, no one is going away (as long as this is true), and mom and dad will love them as much as ever; if one parent IS moving some distance away, reassure the children that they will see that parent regularly, and explain how that might be accomplished.

5. If possible, tell them the plan — it does not need to be extremely detailed, but you should be able to tell them the basics — who will stay in the house? who will be moving out – and approximately where? If a parent is still looking at apartments/houses, it is ok to invite the children to come with you to look at the new places – if they don’t want to come, leave it alone. If a parent already has found a place, it is good to tell children where it is, and bring them over to see it within a few days. Tell them the basic plan — that they will see both parents every week, that they will see both parents every weekend – basic reassurance that they will be with Dad sometimes and with Mom sometimes, and (ideally) you will be all together sometimes for things like soccer games and celebrations (some celebrations – perhaps….but don’t promise anything you cannot deliver.)

6. For a second conversation – a few days after the first, If you know some more of the details of the plan, like “Dad will be driving you to school every day just like he does now” tell them that. Anything that is staying the same, mention and reassure them that these things will remain the SAME. The things that will be different – “Mom will be driving you to school now – we know that is DIFFERENT, but we are going to try to make that work, and Mom can do some of the same fun things that Dad did…we’ll see how it goes and you can tell us what is working, and what is not working.”

7. Be ready for any reactions – children sometimes have tantrums, cry, or say, “When is dinner?” and pretend they didn’t hear you. Some kids ask a lot of questions, and some ask nothing. The children who say nothing need to be coaxed over the coming weeks and months to talk to you, to draw pictures about it, to read books with you about it….etc. The children who ask a lot of questions need to be answered, and reassured over and over again.

8. Try not to hound the children about their feelings, but ask them a question or two every few days. For example: How are you doing with the changes in our family? How was school today…did you find yourself thinking about dad/mom moving a lot during your day in class? Was that hard? What did you do when you felt sad? Did you talk to anyone? What might help when you feel sad about it — what ideas do you have for what you can do? (talk to a friend, a teacher, the school counselor, mom, dad, sibling, aunt, cousin….draw pictures about your feelings…..get a hug from mom/dad…..punch a pillow and yell…..)

9. In a future conversation, talk to the children about what they already know, or think they know, about divorce/ Do they have friends whose parents are divorced? How does it go? What are they scared of? What do those friends LIKE about it (sometimes kids will talk about how they have two Christmases and two birthday parties and it’s sort of a bonus. Even if this isn’t really what they feel, kids are interested in this aspect of divorce and it helps them think through the idea that life will go on and many things will be OK.) Help reassure them about worries that are NOT realistic (let kids know they can take some toys to the new house; that the pet will go back and forth with them perhaps, or their nanny will go back and forth, or whatever you can tell them about what will make them feel better.)

10. If parents get choked up, or cry, it is OK. Acknowledge that this is a sad event for the family, but you will all try to help each other with this, and you will all still love each other. If one parent starts to get mad, or say things that are upsetting or scary for the children, the other parent should RESCUE the situation, NOT MAKE IT WORSE — just say, Mom/Dad is really upset, and this is hard for us all. Let’s take a little break, and we’ll talk again later. I understand how hard this is for all of us. — Be forgiving, even if your spouse is not handling it well – this is for the sake of the children who may feel – initially – like the world is falling apart. You are going to try to make the world still feel safe, even if the reality as they know it is changing dramatically.

11. Let your children know you will ALL get through this – and you will. Let them know that they will be OK, and you will be OK, and you will all help each other adjust and adapt to the changes coming. If you can offer both empathy and acceptance for what your children feel, AND reassurance that even the toughest feelings will get easier over time your children will be able to recover and remain open with you about their feelings.

12. Do your best to treat your co-parent well over the next several weeks – and beyond! Your children will be watching and worrying that if you are getting a divorce, it might mean you (their parents) are going to turn into aliens, or you will behave in embarrassing ways, or you will no longer be “normal” parents and make them eat their broccoli. During the weeks and months following this difficult conversation try hard to treat your co-parent with respect and compassion, and try to keep to as many regular family routines and rituals as you can manage – even if you and your co-parent are doing many of them separately. The children will come to see that though some things are really different, some things will remain the same – and that will help them gradually recover and adjust.

By Gabriel Morales 24 Oct, 2017

By Susan Saper Galamba

Statistics show that alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States. It also tends to be a big problem in divorces.

There has been a significant increase in cases in the last two or three years in which I have seen one spouse claim that the other spouse abused alcohol. Generally, the spouse I meet with claims that his or her spouse is an alcoholic. As I’m not a teetotaler, I never just accept the claim at face value; rather, I always inquire into the details of the allegations. The fact that someone has a drink every day does not mean he or she is an alcoholic. However, when a person’s dependency on alcohol results in problems with interpersonal relationships, an inability to control alcohol consumption and a disregard of the damage that the alcohol is doing to the spouse and the family, the reality is that there is an issue of alcohol dependency.

Alcoholism is the monster in the closet. It is the “thing” for which spouses and children make excuses to keep the monster hidden. What is often the most difficult aspect of divorce for the spouse of an alcoholic is opening the door to the closet and letting the monster come out. This “thing” that the spouse has hidden so well will now have to be proven in court to protect the children. A spouse’s alcoholism may not be an issue if minor children are not part of a divorce; however, it is a significant issue when minor children are involved.

Generally, there is a huge amount of guilt involved when the spouse of an alcoholic seriously considers divorce, especially when what the spouse really wants is for the alcoholic to seek help. Whether a spouse is an alcoholic or not, one of the hardest lessons to learn is that the only person you can control is yourself, and if an alcoholic refuses to help him or herself, you have to protect yourself and your children. If you are considering divorce and are married to someone who is dependent on alcohol, you have to stop covering it up. This doesn’t mean you should start making overt statements about your spouse’s problems with alcohol, but rather you should not hide it. If your spouse’s alcohol abuse is going to be an issue in your case, you will have to be able to prove it, but if no one knows about it, how are you going to prove it? Taking a picture of all of the empty beer cans in the trash isn’t going to do the trick. Think about it this way: the picture doesn’t prove your spouse actually drank all the beers in the trash. Conversely, how are you going to refute the allegation that you bought the beers and are merely setting him or her up? However, if you have friends or family members who can substantiate the alcohol abuse, have videos that document the behavior or have other evidence that corroborates your allegations, you are going to be in a much better position when you file for divorce.

It’s also important to seek the assistance of a mental health professional for yourself and children, if applicable. You will most likely have plenty of blame thrown at you from your alcoholic spouse, including being the cause of his or her need for alcohol. The input you receive from a mental health professional will allow you to process what’s happening without having your guilt control your reaction. It will also allow your children the opportunity to freely express themselves without the concern that they are being disloyal to the other parent.

A frequent obstacle in the pursuit of divorce is the non-alcoholic spouse’s concern about the alcoholic spouse having parenting time with the children. It is this exact reason that you will need proof of the spouse’s alcohol abuse. Courts are supposed to make decisions based on the best interests of minor children, which includes the children’s safety and overall well being. If you have evidence of current alcohol abuse that would endanger the safety of your child, the likelihood is extremely good that there will be restrictions on the alcoholic spouse’s parenting time.

The essential component in these situations is exposing the monster and being able to prove that the spouse’s alcohol dependency endangers the safety of the child. Your word is not going to be enough long-term. I can also assure you that an alcohol dependent spouse who is unwilling to get help will either deny or downplay his or her alcohol consumption. Even when a spouse is arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or public intoxication, the claim will be made that the children weren’t with him or her and away from danger. It is in these types of situations that you need to be able to prove that the DUI is merely an example of the alcohol dependent spouse’s poor decision making, and offer additional evidence regarding instances when the children’s safety was at risk.

The decision to dissolve your marriage to someone who you have always protected and whose monster you have kept hidden in the closet is unbelievably difficult. However, the fear of not knowing what will happen when you open the closet door shouldn’t prevent you from protecting yourself and your children.


By Gabriel Morales 10 Sep, 2017

On Sept. 5, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the orderly phase out of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DHS will provide a limited, six-month window during which it will consider certain requests for DACA and applications for work authorization, under specific parameters. Read the memorandum from Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke for details.

Next Steps for Phasing Out DACA

All DACA benefits are provided on a two-year basis, so individuals who currently have DACA will be allowed to retain both DACA and their work authorizations (EADs) until they expire.

USCIS will adjudicate, on an individual, case by case basis:

Properly filed pending DACA initial requests and associated applications for employment authorization documents (EADs) that have been accepted as of Sept. 5, 2017.
Properly filed pending DACA renewal requests and associated applications for EADs from current beneficiaries that have been accepted as of the date of this memorandum, and from current beneficiaries whose benefits will expire between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018 that have been accepted as of Oct. 5, 2017.
Individuals who have not submitted an application by Sept. 5, for an initial request under DACA may no longer apply. USCIS will reject all applications for initial requests received after Sept. 5.


By Gabriel Morales 08 Sep, 2017

FEBRUARY 21, 2017

Facing a divorce is confusing.
You are approaching an unfamiliar process. Have you heard about divorce mediation? Here is my summary of the divorce mediation process.

I work with both husband and wife together.
You don’t need to be on the same page regarding the resolution of your divorce matters. You do need to be in agreement to voluntarily walk into the room and participate in the mediation process. It is my job to help guide you toward a Marital Settlement Agreement that is equitable to both parties. I provide information about the relevant law from a neutral perspective. The process includes both spouses and me, your attorney mediator, in the mediation room, but you may each consult with separate attorneys any time you want, before or during the mediation process.

What are the benefits? Money is a big one.
Mediation is significantly less expensive than the courtroom battle of litigation. We use a set fee rather than a retainer and hourly rate as is traditional in the legal field. I cannot estimate a specific fee until I meet with both of you during the complimentary consultation in order to know what your issues are and the resulting number of mediation sessions that will be required to complete your divorce process, but I will tell you that the set fee tends to be lower than the initial retainer you would each be quoted from a litigator.

Time is another advantage.
The duration of mediation is measured in months rather than years.

Mediation is more constructive and respectful.
The nature of litigation can become a cycle of negativity. Generally divorcing spouses don’t agree on the resolution of the issues when you begin the mediation process and working toward resolution is a much healthier path through a mediated divorce.


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