Donna Dougherty Law P.C.

What should you say when breaking the news?

At the outset of the divorce process, it is your responsibility as a Virginia parent to inform your child of the separation in a compassionate, understanding manner. How you present the news will have a powerful influence on how your child responds to the impending change. Here are a few tips for what you should and should not do while telling your child that his or her parents can no longer continue living together.

However angry you may be feeling, it is essential to keep in mind that the other parent plays—and will continue to play—a very important role in your child’s life and identity. Thus, Psychology Today advises strongly against criticizing or blaming your partner or otherwise presenting your spouse as the bad parent when you discuss divorce with your child.

Furthermore, although you should provide some sort of general explanation about why the divorce is occurring, you should not go into details about the conflicts, economic concerns or other motives driving your decision. As you explain the circumstances to your child, make sure to emphasize that the separation is a mutual decision between adults and that it is neither the child’s responsibility to fix your relationship nor his or her fault that the marriage is coming to an end. Children often consider themselves to blame for a divorce, so it is crucial that your child truly understands that he or she is not responsible in any way.

Your child also needs to know the details about custody, visitation and the life changes that may occur as a result of the divorce. Which parent will have primary custody? When and how often will the other parent visit? Will the separation require a move that causes your child to switch schools and leave behind friends? It is important to provide clear information in response to these and other concerns your child may have about upcoming alterations to living arrangements.

Above all else, it is essential that your child knows that despite the divorce, he or she is loved by both parents and that his or her feelings, preferences and choices are valued. You should make it clear that you and your partner are willing and emotionally available to listen whenever your son or daughter feels ready to talk.

This information is provided for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice.

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