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Talking to your kids about divorce from a financial perspective

When I was growing up my parents didn’t really discuss finances with me all that much. They got divorced when I was in grade school but, while I knew it wasn’t worth the effort to ask for the most expensive pair of tennis shoes they so, I never really know how divorce, single income families or how anything like that ever worked. I guess I was content to wonder and make assumptions here and there about the effect of money on my young life. Fortunately I was never in a position where I had to go without so I honestly never thought much about it.

Perhaps you are on the other end of the spectrum in terms of how much you share with your children about money. Obviously a lot depends on the age of your children. If you have a child who is five he or she is only able to comprehend so much about money and on top of that the intricacies that divorce presents. On the other hand, if your child is sixteen he or she is likely much more able to understand financial discussions as they pertain to your family after a divorce. You can use your own comfort level, parenting philosophies and age/maturity of your children to make a decision as far as that is concerned.

What I would like to discuss in today’s blog post are some questions that I have been asked by clients of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC regarding finances and children. Specifically, how to discuss the financial impact of divorce on your family with your children. These are, of course, my opinions formed around my own time as a parent as well as my experiences as a practicing family law attorney. Your opinions and experiences on these subjects may be different than my own and that’s fine. In fact, that’s to be expected. My purpose in writing on this subject is more or less to inform you of a perspective that I have seen work well for many families in our community. Whether or not you choose to take these questions/answers to heart is your own decision.

What age is it appropriate to begin to discuss finances with your child?

Since I don’t know your child I would defer to you on the maturity level of him or her. With that said, from my own experiences as a parent I think children as young as three can begin to understand pretty well the concept of money, budgets and things of that nature. Basic discussions can begin at this point with more complex and robust explanations of the effect of divorce on the family finances as a whole may wait until the teenage years. But if you are wondering if your four year old can be told that you can’t afford a particular toy because of the divorce I would say to go ahead and be truthful and discuss the situation as fully as you are comfortable doing.

To what extent do the attitudes of you and your spouse influence the behavior of your child?

This is a question that could just as easily apply to you and your spouse even if you were not going through a divorce. When it comes to children, more is caught than taught. Meaning- you do not need to sit your daughter down on your knee to tell her about an important life lesson. She will observe you and how you behave and take her cues thusly.

If you and your spouse are angry as all get out at one another but you act civilly and with restrain in your interactions your child will pick up on this. If your older child knows you and your spouse are very upset with one another but are able to present a united front in regard to him or her your child too will see this. Finally, if you are frank and honest with your child about finances with the divorce, without blaming your spouse for anything in particular, your child will learn important lessons from how you behave.

Are your kids better able to understand financial topics than you might think? From my experiences, yes, children are more equipped to understand and contextualize financial discussions than we may think. I am talking about personal finances in this setting and as I think any of us would agree, personal finances are more about attitude, behavior and acting with intention than complex equations and variables that need to be weighed. Children understand concepts like deferred gratification, saving, and saying no. It’s another matter altogether of whether they can learn the lessons that these characteristics teach and employ them in their own lives.

Your children will likely have plenty of questions about money as they grow up, many of them could relate either directly or indirectly to your divorce. Instead of allowing your child to search the internet, social media or other less than trustworthy sources for the answers to those questions you are in a position to address them directly with your child and to give him or her an honest answer. Technology being what it is kids can gain access to information that we would have previously never have been able to gain access to as a child. Do not fool yourself into thinking you keeping them in the dark on a subject is benefitting them. You may be saving yourself a difficult conversation but you are harming your child, in my opinion.

How can you and your spouse operate as a team when it comes to finances even after the divorce is finalized?

While you and your spouse may not be able to agree on much during your divorce, one thing that I am willing to bet you do see eye to eye on is that your children are both of your top priorities. The first step to achieving this goal of a united front is to agree to never use your children as a bargaining chip with one another. Inserting your children into the middle of a disagreement on money is both counterproductive in the immediate sense and potentially harmful to your child’s long-term development.

Choose wisely what you allow your children to voice their opinions on. If you choose to let your child voice their opinion on every little matter involving money you may run into a situation where your child feels like they have to make choices and decisions when they may not be capable of doing so. Do not allow your child to make a decision on a subject just because it may anger or upset your ex-spouse. Make the difficult decisions and do not allow your child to do so. If you and your ex-spouse can utilize this rule your relationships with your child will improve dramatically.

Be aware that this is a difficult lesson to learn while engaged in a divorce. There is a lot asked of you in divorce and this is an example of one of those difficult lessons that you will be asked to implement at home. Divorce will cause you to be pulled in multiple directions at once and will test your patience and will. This is where relying on your support system- family and friends- will help you to feel like you can push through the difficult times and to stress the importance of staying true to your parenting philosophy when it comes to your children. Keep your head up and rely on your support system to help discuss the hard subjects- like finances- with your children.

More on finances, children and divorce in tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC

I would like to begin tomorrow’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by discussing basics steps you can take to improve your outlook on personal finances. After that, we’ll jump back into our topic from today of questions and answers in regard to talking to your children about divorce and money.

In the meantime if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week.

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