One of the most important skills for family lawyers is empathy – we have to understand how our clients are feeling and recognise how difficult it is for them to be living through such uncertainty, and we must also think about the implications any decision will have on children in a relationship. We use our experience, objectivity and perspective to help parents navigate their way through divorce whilst keeping their children's best interest at heart.
At Withers we are really fortunate to receive training and input from experts (such as Louise Wigan, Suzy Powers, Dr Emma Loveridge and Christina McGhee) on the emotional ramifications of divorce. Last year, I had the great privilege of attending an excellent training seminar with Christina McGhee which focussed on children of divorcing parents (I shared some of the things I learned in my blog link). The film Split, referred to in my blog, was a particularly powerful way to obtain an insight into how children feel about their parents' divorce.
I was inspired by Christina's robust approach and her confidence that whatever else is going on in their relationship, parents can and must work together for the sake of their children. Here are some tips on how to put Christina's advice into practice when it comes to talking to children about divorce:
Try to agree on what you want the children to know and what the arrangements will be in the short term.
If you can do so amicably, talk to the children together.
Explain all the things that will stay the same – school, friends, clubs and talk about how you will deal with any changes.
Try to stay focussed on the practical; they do not need to know the details of why you are separating.
Ask them what they are worried about, and listen carefully to what they say.
Don't make promises you can't keep. Often this means not making plans too far in the future; it is difficult to predict how you are going to feel in a few months, so take planning slowly.
Take your cue from the children as to when they want to talk.
Be very careful about how you talk to and about your former partner, particularly in front of your children. They need to see that you respect the other parent.
Anticipate issues in advance and let your children know how you are going to deal with them – if you are attending a school event separately then let them know, and make sure they know that you don't mind who they come to speak to first.
Take care of your own emotional health and seek the advice and support you need so you can see clearly enough to help your children.
The skills people learn during their divorce (particularly in relation to communication) can set them up for life with their relationships with their children. The post-divorce family is a different one, but can be an effective, strong and loving one.