There are many upsetting things about working in family law. You see the pain and upset warring couples cause each other, the wider family relationships affected forever and, sometimes, courts hearing about all manner of family details you would think shouldn’t be aired in public.
However, in my view, the effect that divorce has on children, particularly younger ones rather than those who have flown the nest, ranks as the most painful thing about divorce.
If the children are younger, they will not fully understand what is happening, only that their world will never be the same again. If they are a little older, they are likely to be angry and upset but might internalise the heartbreak. Divorce and separation affects everyone in different ways.
So how do you tell them? This is a question which we are asked regularly and the answer is that there is no right answer. It depends on the individual child, the couple’s circumstances and a million other things. However, there is some sensible guidance we can offer.
Essentially, children will want to know what a divorce will mean, how it will affect them, and what changes are likely to take place. No matter what the situation is, the children need to know that they are loved and it is not their fault. Telling them this in an age-appropriate way can go a long way to reassuring them and helping prepare them for the inevitable upheaval ahead.
Ideally, mum and dad should do it together, putting on a united front to reassure them. Honesty is always the best policy and telling the children is not an opportunity to “dish the dirt”. That will only make a bad situation worse.
And anyone who has children will know to be prepared for questions. Small people ask hundred of questions every day. Putting them in a situation where their mum and their dad are going separate ways will inevitably prompt more questions – so be prepared.