The divorce is a big life event for the whole family. Children can feel upset, confused, sad, afraid, angry or even relieved. All children have unique reactions and show their emotions in different ways. To understand what your child is going through, give them time to open up and encourage them to talk about the thoughts and feelings they have about the divorce.
How you prepare and tell your child about the divorce will determine how they feel about it. It’s important to think about how and what you tell your child about the divorce so that they don’t begin to worry or blame themselves.
Consider your child’s needs throughout the divorce process. Listening, showing affection and being receptive of your child’s emotions are good ways to protect your child from distress. After the divorce, work on building a functional co-parenting relationship with your ex-partner. Never use your child as a messenger to communicate with your child’s mother or father. Make sure that your child maintains their relationships with their other parent, family members and other loved ones.
Telling your children that you’re going to get a divorce is one of the hardest parenting moments you can have. Causing your child confusion, disappointment, and sorrow while also grieving the end of your own relationship is especially challenging.
It’s good to keep children up to date on what’s going on in the family, especially about anything that concerns your child directly. Preparing your child for the divorce means that you sit down and discuss the decision to divorce with your child, and neither parent moves out of the home overnight. When you prepare properly and give your child time to adjust to the idea and ask questions, your child will have a better reaction.
Only tell your children about the divorce once you’re certain about your decision. Sit down with your partner and think carefully about what your children need to know and how you’re going to present the reasons for the divorce. Take your child’s age into account when thinking about how to talk to them about the divorce. Make sure what you tell your child is age-appropriate and doesn’t make either of you look bad to your child. Ideally, you would be able to tell your children about the divorce together.
Talk to your child about the divorce honestly and directly. This way, your child won’t come to their own conclusions. Avoid going into unnecessary detail about any relationship issues you were having or being too specific about why you’re separating. Telling your children that you were having too many disagreements, don’t get along anymore or that you will both be happier living separately are good ways to explain your decision. Avoid pointing fingers for your relationship problems or reasons for the divorce in front of your children.
It’s important to make sure your child understands that the divorce is not their fault and isn’t the result of anything they did. Your child will feel more secure when you tell them they are loved, and you are still going to be taking care of them. When you’re preparing to tell your child about the divorce, make sure you’ve also prepared some ideas about what the future arrangements are going to be and what their daily life will look like.
From a child’s perspective, the divorce is final when one parent moves out of the family home or you and your child move into a new home. As you prepare for the move, it’s important for both of you to spend quality time with your child. Showing and telling your child that both parents love them is important. Talk with your child and answer their questions. Remind your child out loud that they have permission to love both of you.
Prioritising your children during the divorce process requires thinking about what the situation is going to look like and feel like from a child’s perspective. If you’re unsure about what you should do to support your child, take a look at the list for parents below.
Good principles for parents:
- We’re going to tell our children we’re getting a divorce and explain why together. Our child doesn’t need to come to their own conclusions or blame themselves.
- We’re going to arrange children’s matters together the best way we can. We’re leaving our relationship, not our child.
- We’re going to show our children we love them and we’re going to take good care of them, even though we’re separating. We’re going to be receptive and listen to our children’s emotions.
- We’re going to tell our children what’s going to change in their daily lives and what’s going to stay the same. We both want our child to feel secure.
- We’re going to protect our children from unnecessary disappointment. We aren’t going to make promises we can’t keep or give them false hope.
- We understand and accept that children need both of their parents as well as other close adults and loved ones. As parents, we’re committed to giving our children the possibility to nurture these relationships.
- We’re going to tell other adults our children are in contact with about the divorce. It’s not up to our child to inform anyone about the divorce.
- We’re both going to put in effort to communicate with each other. Our child won’t be used as a messenger.
- We’re both going to take care of our own coping and get help if we need it. We aren’t going to use children for emotional support. Our child won’t feel responsible for our emotions.
- We’re going to respect our child’s developmental stages and do our best to be good parents. As parents, we take responsibility for providing a secure environment for our child to grow up in.
According to the Finnish law Lapsenhuoltolaki 11§, children’s thoughts and opinions on custody and visitation rights must be heard and taken into account, as much as is appropriate for their age and level of development.
Divorce proceedings are settled between adults, but children’s lives are always severely affected when their parents separate. Children are not a legal party involved in the divorce, but parents must take children’s opinions and wishes about matters that concern them into account and accommodate them where possible.
Children have the right to be carefree and untroubled by adults’ problems. It’s important for children to feel loved, important, and accepted for who they are. Children have the right to be heard, seen, and noticed during and after the divorce.
Children need to be informed about any decisions that concern them and you should discuss decisions together. Children need to be told which matters and decisions they can have a say in and what different alternatives and arrangements are possible. It’s important that children are fully informed and comprehend what the consequences of their opinions are. Children also need to be told that they have the right not to have an opinion on everything.
Figuring out what your child thinks and feels should always be done with tact. Avoid prompting your child to answer in a certain way or putting pressure on them to have an opinion. Never pressure or coerce children into choosing a side or bribe them into giving an answer you would prefer. Children should never end up mediating conflicts between parents. Your relationship with your children shouldn’t be affected by your children’s opinion about the divorce arrangements in any way.
As parents, it’s your responsibility to discuss the divorce and new arrangements with your children. For more information on how to talk to your children about the divorce, click here.
If you’re having a hard time with the divorce, having trouble talking with your children or if you’d prefer support from outside the family, your local child welfare supervisor can meet with your children and discuss their opinions on the arrangements. This is an option if hearing children is necessary in order to come to an agreement. Children also have to consent to the meeting themselves.
When a court decision is needed for guardianship or visitation rights, children can be heard by a judge. Children are heard as necessary or of their own choice. Special consideration is taken when hearing children under 12 years of age. To protect children from unnecessary harm, children younger than 12 are only heard in court when absolutely necessary.
When parents get a divorce, children risk losing their relationships with parents as well as close bonds with friends and relatives. As parents, it’s up to you to make sure that your child’s relationships with friends and family don’t end up suffering as a result of the divorce.
Children need assistance staying in contact and visiting friends and family. You can’t sit back and leave your child to stay in contact with friends and family on their own. Agree on how to organize visits with grandparents, relatives and friends with your child’s other parent early on. Ideally, both of you would encourage your child to stay in contact with both sets of grandparents and put in effort to organize visits on holidays, birthdays, and special occasions. Children benefit from having close and meaningful relationships with both of their parents as well as other adults.
Children can be granted visitation rights with close adults that aren’t their parents. This can happen when a child has a stable relationship with an adult that is comparable to a parent-child relationship. For example, an adult who has lived in the same household or spent a lot of time with your child and actively taken care of them and been a part of their lives. Before making a decision on visitation rights, a judge will take into account whether the relationship is meaningful from your child’s perspective and what your opinion on the situation is. Visitation rights between a child and adult who isn’t their parent are always decided on by court decision, not a child welfare supervisor. Visitation rights mean that your child is allowed to occasionally visit and regularly keep in touch with a close adult. If visitation rights have been granted, the terms of the court decision should be adhered to by both parents.
All couples are unique and there are several reasons for separating while your child is in infancy. While some couples start a family after spending a long time together, others have children outside of a relationship. Your baby could be the first-born child for both or either of you or you might have several children together and lived as a family for years. You could have even had your first child while still underage yourself.
Separating shortly after your baby is born can be very tense and emotional, especially if your relationship was having issues before or during the pregnancy. You and your partner might have had different expectations about how your relationship would change after having a baby. Similarly, an unexpected or unplanned pregnancy can cause conflicting thoughts and feelings about the relationship.
If your baby has older siblings, you might already have experience parenting. However, if you’re planning on getting divorced, make sure you take your baby’s right to get to know and form a relationship with their siblings into consideration. It’s important to remember that a baby has different needs to older children and visitation needs to be arranged differently. While an older child can be somewhat independent, a baby needs a lot of support and care during their first years, especially when switching houses.
Your infant child has the right to get to know and form a relationship with both parents. As parents, you are responsible for making sure your child has the possibility to form a connection with you. It’s important for children have the experience of receiving care from both parents, even though you aren’t together. In psychology, this is called secure attachment. Secure attachment also means your infant child develops an emotional bond with you and feels protected and safe. Developing a secure attachment relationship with both parents has a significant impact on children’s entire lives.
It’s natural for infant children to need to spend more time with their mother. While fathers should meet their children regularly and spend time taking care of them, mothers usually take sole responsibility for caring for very young children. Spending time with children while they’re awake is important for bonding. You should discuss how to make sure both of you are present and included in your child’s life. Be prepared to be flexible and willing to put up with your child’s other parent. Successful co-parenting isn’t just about the relationship you have with your ex-partner. Thinking about what your child needs and being able to see the situation from your child’s perspective are important skills. Your child needs security, clear routines, enough rest, enough time to play, and time spent together with family.
You can build trust with your child’s other parent by keeping the promises and agreements you’ve made together, as well as making decisions one step at a time. Your child will grow quickly and develop at their own pace. This is why it’s so important to keep your child’s other parent informed about progress your child is making and what’s going on in their life. Keeping the conversation open, and sharing photos and videos are good ways to keep the parent who doesn’t have primary custody updated and involved. Even though you aren’t together anymore, think about whether you might be comfortable attending appointments at the family clinic together.
Divorcing when your child is an infant means your own emotions will have to take a backseat. Going through a divorce, processing your emotions, and taking care of a baby can be an exhausting experience that requires a lot of energy. This is why it’s important for both of you to put aside your differences and disagreements and be supportive of each other’s parenting efforts. It’s especially important that you avoid arguing in front of your child. Arguing is taxing on both of you and creates extra stress. If you’re struggling with communication or finding it impossible, outside help might be necessary.
For more information on daily life with a young child and helpful resources, take a look at vauvaperhe.fi.
The divorce can be scary, sad, confusing, enraging, or even relieving for children. Just like adults, children also go through a wide range of emotions and need time to adjust to changes. Both adults and children need time and support to process their emotions and put them into words.
It’s common for children to express their feelings about the divorce in situations that might seem strange to you. Sometimes children might not show you their true feelings until things have settled down after the initial shock of the divorce. Children are clever and can sense when you’re strong enough to be receptive of their feelings. Sometimes so much time might have passed since the divorce that you have a hard time drawing a connection between your child’s behaviour and the divorce.
Children often grieve the loss of the parent that moves out of the family home and fear that they won’t be a part of their lives anymore. At the same time, your child can be afraid about what’s going to happen to them. It’s common for children to have thoughts such as “Is the other parent going to leave too, and who’s going to take care of me then?”. Children are also often angry with the parent that moved out and “abandoned” them, or angry at the parent they blame for the divorce. Sometimes children are relieved by the divorce, especially when there used to be a lot of arguing and fighting at home.
All children react differently to their parents getting a divorce and what your situation at home was like before the divorce will affect how your children react. Your child’s age, their relationship with you, and support from other secure, trusted adults also affect their reaction.
How you behave during the divorce process, what kind of relationship you have with your child’s other parent after the divorce, and whether you put your child’s best interests first will have a big influence on how your child feels about the divorce. Always remember that the partner you’re divorcing is still an important and special person to your child.
Encourage your child to talk about the divorce, but give them time
Just like adults, children also need time and support to process their feelings. You can encourage your child to open up to you and talk about their feelings by starting the conversation. However, keep in mind that children might not be able to process their feelings at the same rate as you are, or they might not be ready to talk to you about the divorce yet. If your child seems to be doing well otherwise, there’s no cause for concern. Sometimes children take a while to open up and want to wait until things have settled down.
The divorce might be making your child act out in daycare or school. Let your children’s teachers and daycare staff, as well as any other important adults in your child’s life know about the divorce and any changes your family is going through.
If you’re concerned about how your child is doing and whether they’re adjusting after the divorce, your local family clinic can help you. Your child might also benefit from joining a peer support group for children or teenagers. Search for your local services here.
Every child is unique and experiences divorce differently. The best thing you can do as a parent is to remember that you and your child have different perspectives on the divorce and your children will experience the divorce very differently to you.
You help your child when you
- let them talk about the divorce with you and tell you what’s on their mind, how they feel, and what they want
- help them stay in contact with their other parent
- make sure they can still spend time with their friends like they did before the divorce and stay in contact with their friends
- avoid arguing in front of them and stay civil with your child’s other parent
- do fun things and spend family time together
- make sure their life has enough joy, fun and pleasure
What should parents prepare for when divorcing with teenage children? How does divorce affect teenagers?
Approximately 30 000 children go through their parents’ divorce in Finland each year. Divorce is common, which can make it seem like divorce is a normal part of life. Children and teenagers cope well and adjust quickly to changes. However, when you surprise your teenager with the news you’re getting divorced, you inadvertently threaten your teenager’s sense of security and their trust in adults and stable relationships. It isn’t always possible to tell your children you’ve been thinking about getting divorced, and parents often think they are protecting their children by keeping any talk of the divorce secret for as long as possible. This means that your teenager is mentally unprepared when they’re presented with the information that you’re getting divorced. Being unprepared causes extra stress for your teenager and can make them question their ideas about family and relationships.
Many teenagers think of their parents’ divorce as a turning point in their lives and a marker for when their childhood ended. After the divorce, many teenagers feel like their lives become consumed with stress and concern over grown-up issues. Teenagers and older children don’t always understand the cause-and-effect relationship between their own bad mood and the divorce. Adolescence is a trying time and your teenager will be going through a developmental crisis as well as processing the shock of the divorce. If your teenager can’t put their feelings into words or doesn’t have anyone to talk to, they might start acting out, having psychosomatic symptoms, or having problems at school and home. Teenagers might also try to regain control of the situation by constantly being on their best behaviour, becoming self-sufficient and overachieving. If your teenager’s feelings and needs are overlooked or they can’t express them, your teenager is at risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Your teenager has to come up with a reason for the divorce that helps them understand the situation. If they don’t have a reason for the divorce, your teenager will fill in the blanks on their own and might start to blame themselves or take responsibility they shouldn’t be taking. It’s easy for teenagers to start feeling alone as their parents go through a divorce, and as parents, you might be under the impression that not wanting to listen or talk and spending time with friends or in their room mean your teenager is doing fine. Teenagers often feel that their parents either overshare details about the divorce or don’t speak about it enough. On the other hand, parents often assume their teenager will be satisfied with the information they’ve decided to give.
The divorce itself isn’t necessarily harmful to your child, but the way you speak and behave can be harmful and hurtful. Teenagers react badly to witnessing arguing in the lead up to the divorce, during the break-up, as well as in the aftermath. Putting your child in a position where they have to mediate arguments is harmful, and your teenager will be hurt if they feel like you don’t have time for anything besides your own concerns and a new partner.
Teenagers often feel relieved by the divorce when the divorce means that you stop fighting and arguing at home. If there hasn’t been any arguing at home, the divorce can be harder to come to terms with. As your teenager goes through the crisis, it’s important that mum and dad are still adults and children can still be children.
How will my teenager cope with the divorce?
How a teenager copes with the divorce depends on several factors. Age, development, temperament, resilience and what your family life was like before and during the divorce all play an important role in determining how your teenager will cope. Co-parenting and mutual respect go a long way in supporting your teenager through the divorce. When you share responsibility with your child’s other parent, discuss matters reasonably together and make decisions together, your child’s sense of security will be reinforced. Having a functional relationship with your child’s other parent will minimize your child’s conflict of loyalty and ease any pressure they might feel to side with one parent against the other. Children need to feel that they have the right to love both of their parents and that they are still important to their parents when they find new partners.
It’s important to talk about the divorce and deal with your feelings, but a lot of teenagers find it hard to open up to their parents. Parents also need their own space and place to talk about the divorce so that they don’t burden their children with their own emotions. Oftentimes, teenagers don’t get the support they need to help them adjust during a divorce.
Peer support, youth hotlines and online chats, crisis hotlines, youth workers, youth safehouses, school healthcare and local family services provide help for teenagers.