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How do you tell your children you’re divorcing or separating?

It’s very natural to worry about telling your children you’re divorcing or separating; as parents you want to protect them.

You may have lots of questions running through your head and with everything that’s going on for you it can be difficult to think through this important step.

You may worry how they’re going to take the news. Will they blame you? Will they be able to cope with the changes that being a separated family inevitably brings? Are you going to be able to cope with their reactions?


Think about what you’re going to say before you say it.

Use clear words that your children can understand. Phrases like “spending time apart” can be misunderstood and children may hang on to you getting back together.

Bear in mind that children don’t want to hear the reasons behind why you’re separating, who’s to blame or the details around your separation. They love you both.

Should you and your ex partner speak to the children together?  

Being there together can feel supportive for your children.

If you agree to tell your children together it can be a way of helping you think about what you’re going to say to them. 

You can agree on the words you’re going to use.

You can also agree in advance how you might answer any questions your children might ask.

It is re-assuring for children to know that whilst you as Mum and Dad are each going to be in separate houses they will see you both.

When is the best time to tell your children you are separating?

Bear in mind that whenever you tell your children they will need time and space to process the news that you are separating.

They may want to go to their room or to a quiet place because they want time away to think about what’s been said. They may greet the news silently.

The news can be shocking for them and they may feel anxious, angry, sad they may feel it’s their fault. Don’t expect each of your children to respond in the same way.

Knowing that children can have many and varied reactions may help you decide when would be the best time for them to hear you are separating and divorcing.

You don’t have all the answers.

Some children have questions straight away. Where will I live? Who will I live with? When will I see my friends? Will I stay at the same school?

Whilst you may have already worked out proposed arrangements, you may not.

It’s ok not to know all the answers and you can explain that you will say more when you have a clearer idea of future plans.

You may want to ask your children what they think might work well for them, remembering that you are their parents and decision makers, and your children need to know that you are there to support and guide them.

Take is slowly.

Children need some time to think about what your separation means to them. Let them come to you with questions. Letting them know you’re separating can be enough information in the early stages.

Children need to know you’ll be supporting them and guiding them through the changes as you separate and divorce.

Be clear and open with your children and both be available to answer questions which may take days, weeks or longer to formulate.

You know your children best so you know how they can best hear what you need to say.

Each Horizon mediator is trained to work with children in the mediation process.

As child inclusive mediators we are trained to know what’s important for children when parents separate, and we can help you think through those important considerations to develop a plan for your family, to help you achieve the best outcome for you all as you each move through the different stages and inevitable changes.


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