What to Say and Not to Say to Children During a Divorce

During a divorce case, it is critical that both spouses carefully choose their words when discussing the situation with their children.  This is important for both the mental wellbeing of the children, and each spouse’s legal interests in the case.

A divorce case, when handled properly, will likely result in a better living situation for children as children do not benefit from having parents who are in an unhappy marriage, nor does setting such an example for children do them any good in the long-run.  When it occurs, emotional harm to children in divorce cases is a product of the improperly actions taken or not taken by parents – not the divorce itself.  Children are remarkably perceptive, and can see right through a situation where their parents don’t wish to remain married but do so due to a mistaken belief that doing so is “for the good of the children.”

Being careful not to discuss improper matters with a child during a divorce case is key to preventing lasting emotional harm to the child.  Improper things to discuss with a child during a divorce can include the following:

  • Whose “fault” it is that a divorce is taking place.
  • A desire that the other spouse cancel the divorce.
  • Infidelity of either spouse – Such matters are not relevant to how the courts in Iowa or Illinois will handle child custody, child support, child visitation (or alimony or property, for that matter).  Adultery is just not something that should be discussed with a child.
  • Negative things about the other spouse or the other spouse’s relatives.
  • Statements about the child not seeing the other parent in the future.
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At the same time, saying the right things to a child are also important during a divorce.  Reassuring the child that he or she is loved and will always be loved is critical.  Children need emotional stability, especially when their parents are in the process of becoming separated.

It is similarly important to help any children of the marriage understand that they are not at fault for the divorce.  Remember, children are not adults and even the most intelligent and precocious child will lack the reasoning skills that an adult has, especially as to social matters.  That is why many children will incorrectly believe that their behavior – even something as simple as not cleaning up their room once – caused their parents to separate.  Reminding a child that they are in no way at fault for the divorce is important.

Children benefit greatly from being told that they will be taken care of just like always, and that the divorce will not cause them to be abandoned or neglected.  Sometimes, children will worry that a divorce case would mean they would be left behind or abandoned.  Plainly telling a child that is not the case is an easy way to avoid such worries.

Properly discussing (and not discussing) divorce-related matters with a child during a divorce case is also important insofar as a parent’s legal interests are concerned.  The courts in Illinois and Iowa strongly disfavor a parent putting their child in the middle of adult matters during divorce cases, or driving a wedge between the child and the other parent.  The Illinois Circuit Courts and the Iowa District Courts recognize that parental alienation and other such issues are real, and will take such matters into account when deciding how to award child custody and child support.  It therefore behooves every parent to conduct themselves in the proper manner, and work with their attorney to document any improper actions that their spouse takes during the divorce case, so that the matter can be properly presented to the judge.

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Divorce cases can be emotional, for obvious reasons.  However, it is entirely possible to handle a divorce case in a way that avoids emotional harm to children and allows both spouses to move on with life in a productive manner.