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A Toronto divorce lawyer will cite the legal definition of a divorce as: A court decree that terminates a marriage; also known as marital dissolution. However, this definition fails to acknowledge what is often the most significant aspect of divorce: the parent-child relationship.

Children do not understand divorce as adults do. They do not recognize the intricacies of relationships, the formality of the matter, or the need for a Toronto divorce lawyer. Children only see their parents. While young children are completely dependent on the family unit, older children will learn to define their identity outside of their parents. Nevertheless, the separation of spouses will have some degree of impact on any child involved. This impact, however, does not have to be a negative one, if you take time to prepare your children for the divorce.

1) Prepare Yourself
Children are incredibly perceptive and observant. They are not easily fooled and don’t like dishonesty. Before sitting down with your child, sit down by yourself, and organize your own thoughts about the divorce. This may be a painful process, but your child will have questions and you must be prepared to answer them. Your Toronto divorce lawyer should be able to help you categorize the legal reality from your own subjective ideas and feelings.

2) Prepare your Partner
Ideally, you and your co-parent will be able to put aside the issues of your separation, to speak honestly and calmly about what to say to your child(ren). Remind your partner that the best interests of the child are paramount; and what is best for the child is a unified front. Divorced parents and children are still a family. This family may look and interact differently, but it is still the only family your child has.

During this phase, it is recommended that you and your partner discuss the details of the divorce that you will not be sharing with your child. Similarly, come to a mutual agreement to avoid making any negative comments about one another in front of your child, as it will be detrimental and harmful to all parties. Children are not pawns in the game of divorce, their psychological well being must be advocated for at all times.  A Toronto divorce lawyer can provide further advice on how to manage these healthy and productive conversations.

3) Talk to the Child Together
Sit down with your child together in a comfortable, familiar place that is free from distractions. You may hide vegetables in your child’s pasta sauce, but do not hide the fact that you and your partner are getting divorced. Do not create a “story” to mask the fact that there will be significant changes to your family structure. Be truthful and acknowledge that there will be changes for everyone, but that your child will not be alone.

One of the immediate feelings your child will likely feel is guilt. Assuage these feelings by affirming that the separation is not his/her fault, or anyone’s fault for that matter. Playing the blame game is not productive for any party.

Instead, explain in simple terms why you and your partner have chosen to end the marriage. Share as much information as the child needs to comfortably comprehend why he or she is not responsible. It is important to tailor your explanation to your child’s age and personality.

Your child will likely feel fear and insecurity. The most daunting facet of change is the level of uncertainty. In order to help your child feel safe and secure, be sure to detail (to the best of your ability) how the immediate future will look. Explain to your child:

  • What can your child expect from you and your spouse?
  • When will different changes be taking place?
  • How may your child’s life change?
  • Who will have primary custody and how often he/she will see his/her other parent?
  • Will your child need to move out of his/her home?
  • What school will your child be attending?

To limit feelings of fear and insecurity, try not to disrupt the child’s routine in any abrupt ways. Try to create consistency and stability in your daily lives. Changes will happen, but allow yourself and your child to make them gradually, if possible.

Conclude the initial discussion with your child by allowing them to ask questions. A child does not have the same level of control over his/her emotions, thus allow him/her to express whatever it is he/she is feeling. Any feeling he/she feels in this moment is okay and natural. If your child has no reaction, and wishes to watch TV or play outside, allow them to do so. There is no right way to react. After giving your child the time he/she asks for, return to the conversation.

Adults do have a high degree of control over their emotions; therefore, be sure to keep yours in check. It is difficult and emotional to explain a divorce to your child, but it is not the child’s responsibility to make you feel better. If your child sees you or your partner visibly upset, scared or angry; he/she will learn to associate these feelings with divorce.

Keep in mind that like the separation, explaining a divorce, is a process. This is only the first discussion of many. Furthermore, encourage your child to ask questions and share his/her thoughts. Each child will react differently to divorce depending on his/her age, personality, maturity and relationship with each parent.

4) Talk to the Child Separately
After speaking to the child as a couple, make time in the next few days for each parent to speak individually to the child. A Toronto divorce lawyer is well aware that every divorce is unique. Likewise, every parent-child relationship is unique, and requires special care and attention.

Speaking to the child separately may allow the child to express specific concerns with each parent. Take the opportunity to begin to delineate a new type of relationship that you and your child can begin to have. Kids will benefit from having one-on-one time with his/her parent during all stages of the separation process.

Be sure to underline that he/she is not being abandoned or that he/she is “not wanted.” By having each parent speak separately with the child, it will help to demonstrate that he/she is the centre of love and attention.

5) Moving Forward
Throughout the divorce process and in its aftermath, continue to “check-in” with your kids. Help them identify and articulate their feelings through speaking, writing, drawing, or whatever medium he/she feels most comfortable.

When speaking to or about your ex-spouse, use respectful and polite language. Hearing negative comments about his/her father or mother can be incredibly detrimental to his/her mental health.

Your child and you may likely mourn the family you once had. Allow for this time of grief. Look for particular symptoms and behavioural changes such as increased anxiety, problems at school, change or loss of friends, inability to sleep or oversleeping, and fluctuations in appetite. If you feel that your child is coping poorly with the divorce after some time has passed, please get help. Talk to a support group, religious leaders, the school guidance counselor, your Toronto divorce lawyer or find a child therapist to aid you and your child through this difficult time.

Related: Books that make divorce easier for kids

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