You’re separating and you have children, what now?

Have you and your partner decided to separate? Find out how to handle telling your children, and what to do afterwards. 

January is Divorce Month, the time every year when couples are more likely to consider divorce. And if you too decided to end your marriage in January, you may have started, or be beginning to contemplate, the formal process of ending your marriage or relationship.

Dealing with separation is hard and presents innumerable challenges. However, when children are involved, the whole process can become much more taxing. To help you navigate this next chapter in your life, Henry Brookman of Brookman Solicitors gives his advice on how to handle separation when you have children to consider.

Don’t put off telling your children

If you and your partner have decided to separate, it’s important to tell your children sooner rather than later. Naturally, the dynamic between you and your partner will have shifted and, although you may try your best to behave normally, your children can pick up on the subtle differences in the ways you act towards each other.

When you tell your children, make sure you stand united and to explain the situation together. This isn’t the time to argue or assign blame. The news is going to be difficult for your children to hear, and you need to put their feelings first and handle them delicately.

Try to keep communication open

Children often blame themselves for their parents’ separation, so make it clear they’re not the cause of the divorce. Children can also react to the news in several ways. They may have lots of questions, and they may wonder if they will be able to maintain their relationship with the other parent.

So ask about and address any questions and concerns your child may have to put them at ease (keeping in mind their age and what is suitable for them to hear).

Some children may respond instead by isolating themselves. If so, try to encourage them to talk about their feelings and stress that both parents are there for them. If your child really finds it difficult speaking to you, finding another person outside of the situation to help them explore their feelings could be a good idea.

Remember, children going through divorce are more susceptible to experiencing issues such as anxiety, depression or insomnia. If you’re concerned about your child, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a doctor or mental health professional.

Be respectful towards your partner

Displaying any animosity towards your partner in front of your children can confuse and hurt them. They need to know they can continue to have relationships with both their parents without upsetting the other one.

As much as you may wish to cut all communication with your partner after separating, as you are both involved in raising your child, you’ll need to keep speaking to each other.

It would be a terrible idea to undermine the other partner’s authority or reverse any decisions they’ve made. You should also be careful not to influence your child’s perception of them. Although you’re separating as partners, it’s important to remain united as parents as you will need to come to agreements on many decisions surrounding your children’s upbringing.

Stick to a familiar routine

Separation is a life-changing event. In order to cope with the situation, your children need consistency and routine in the other areas of their life. So try to keep their routines the same in both households, and make sure their days are as typical as possible.

For many children, home is synonymous with safety. However, when something painful like a separation occurs at home, children will find stability and safety in the ordinary, everyday routines.

Throughout the process of divorce, it’s essential to give your children opportunities to express their feelings. Even though your marriage is coming to a close, children want to know their relationships with their parents will remain intact and strong.

And finally, new living arrangements and visitations can be confusing to a child. Try to be clear about what’s happening and to give your children time to process change. Reassurance is key when handling separation.

Read more on parenting through divorce

You can read more about navigating a separation with children in these articles:

Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters.

Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel. 

Photo by Benjamin Manley