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Talking to your kids about divorce from a financial perspective

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

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

IN TODAY'S blog post, I would like to discuss some questions clients have asked me 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 and my experiences as a practicing family law attorney. Your opinions and experiences on these subjects may differ from mine, and that's fine. 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 the heart is your own decision.

At 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. 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. Essential discussions can start 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 thoroughly 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 behave and take her cues like this.

If you and your spouse are angry as all get out at one another, but you act civilly and 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 can present a united front regarding them, your child will see this. Finally, if you are frank with your child about finances with the divorce, without blaming your spouse for anything, in particular, your child will learn essential 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. 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 them an honest answer. Technology being what it is, kids can gain access to information that we would have previously never been able to access as a child. Please do not fool yourself into thinking that keeping them in the dark on a subject benefits them. You may be saving yourself a challenging conversation, but you are harming your child, in my opinion.

How can you and your spouse operate as a team when finances are finalized even after the divorce?

While you and your spouse may not 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 express their opinion on every minor 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 decide 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 you ask 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 feel like you can push through the difficult times and 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 challenging 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 want to begin tomorrow's blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, by discussing basic 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 regarding 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 consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week.

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