Helping a child get through a difficult divorce is a challenge for any parent in any child. It doesn't matter how strong your relationship is or how precocious or intelligent the child is. Many of the subtleties and finer points of divorce that may seem obvious to you and I are lost on children. Keep in mind that no matter how inquisitive or bright your child is he or she is only a child. That means that their life experiences are not what yours are and there are opportunities to experience emotions and other adult situations have not yet come up.
This is for a good reason. The brains of children are not fully developed until they're in their mid 20s science tells us. As a result, their ability to process information and use reason to problem solve is not developed to the point that ours is as adults. With that said, your job as a parent who brings the divorce into the family is too help your child understand as much as he or she needs to in your opinion. That means you and your spouse, if possible, need to work together to bridge the gap between the changes that are about to take place in your family and the knowledge that your child has of the divorce process.
As far as I'm concerned, the key to this whole discussion is that you and your spouse need to determine what is appropriate and what is necessary to tell your child about the divorce. Your divorce is not my divorce or your neighbors divorce. It certainly isn't your mother or father's divorce even though they may have opinions about how you need to talk to their grandchildren about the case. At the end of the day, it is going to be you and your spouse sitting in the home with your children Going through the divorce process and helping them to understand why it is happening. Nobody else is going to volunteer to have that discussion for you so you all may as well bite the bullet and figure out how to have that conversation.
Make the conversation age appropriate
You and your spouse are not going to tell your 4-year-old the same things about your divorce as you would tell your 14-year-old. Even though a 14-year-old is not yet an adult, he or she is more capable of understanding why relationships fail and what implications the divorce will have on your family. Their questions will be different about the divorce than a younger child's questions would be. Your little ones may not even understand fully what is going on. They may just believe that mom and dad are not getting along or are fighting a lot. Their view of the case is likely to be much more stunted than an older child's.
Bearing in mind the ages of your children and their maturity level you should tailor the conversation you have with them about your divorce to these benchmarks. You do not need to feel like you have to explain every detail to your child no matter how old they are. There are some aspects of your marriage that you want to keep private and that your children frankly do not need to know. Subjects like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity, drug use, and abuse are not subject matter that you necessarily need to weigh your children down with. They will not help your child to understand the process any better.
However, you can and should talk to your child about how the divorce is not their fault. I realize this may sound cliché. You have probably read or heard from other people that this is a common Thought for children to have, that the divorce their parents are getting was brought about by some action or inaction of theirs. the fact that something is a cliché means that on some level it is true. From my experience, children do internalize divorce in their family to be something that they did wrong or that somehow, they did not live up to the expectations of their parent. This can put a lot of undue pressure on a child who is otherwise going through a very difficult time.
Take the time to talk to your child early in the process about the divorce. Do not wait for him or her to hear about it an offhand conversation you may be having with your spouse or with another family member. The reason why I cautioned you to talk to your child directly about the divorce early in the process is that if you do not have this conversation he or she will begin to formulate their own ideas and preconceived notions about divorce without consulting you first period this could cause a lot of misunderstanding and problems in the mind of your child while not really helping him or earth learn more about what changes are about to take place in their life.
Again, your child's worldview is much more limited than yours. It goes without saying that the things that you know in the context you are able to put your life into is not what your child would be able to do. Since your child need your guiding hand now more than ever you need to be able to take steps 2 work with him or her directly with the assistance of your spouse. This may mean coordinating what you were going to say ahead of time with your spouse and if nothing else, you should reinforce that the divorce is not your child's fault and that both parents love their child very much.
Ideally, you and your spouse would be able to talk to your child about your jointly held plan to share custody and time with your child. The immediate concern of most children in the situation Is how much time they will be losing with each parent. If you can go to some lengths to describe to your child how visitation is likely to work and how the challenges you face in the family can actually workout better for you all in the long run, I think your family will be best served.
Going through a divorce with a special needs child
Much of what we have already talked about in today's blog post apply for you and your family even if you have a special needs child. Of course, I do not know your specific circumstances in relation to your child and the nature of their impairment or disability. Some special needs children are extremely high functioning and do not require much, if any, in the way of special care. On the other hand, some of your children May require a great deal of medical or emotional intervention by professionals and therefore a boilerplate conversation about divorce would not be possible or effective. It is up to you and your spouse to make a determination of which camp you fall into and to act accordingly.
Like many other areas of your life when it comes to parenting your special needs child, you will need to likely devote more time to having a conversation with him or her about your divorce than you would a child who does not have special needs. You and your spouse know how to talk to your special needs child about issues and how to problem solve in regard to his or her specific needs. Hopefully you and your spouse are able to coordinate your efforts and present a united frontier special needs child in regard to the divorce. If not, he or she could be made to feel like there is an even bigger problem in the house than there already is. if children without special needs are not able to have much context or perspective into divorce imagine how difficult it would be for your special needs child to face the reality of your parents separating households.
With that said, I would like to provide you with 3 pieces of advice on how to work with your special needs child in the time of your divorce. These are not steps to follow that cost a lot of money or require a great deal of knowledge of the law, psychology or anything like that. What they do require is for you to be committed and diligent in approaching this topic with your child. Like anything else in relation to your children you need to be intentional in the way you act.
Have a plan in stick to it
the best general advice I can give to you when it comes to helping your special needs child get through your divorce is to devise a plan with your spouse and stick to that plan. This means taking into consideration all the advice I've already given you on approaching the topic with your child and speaking to him for her so that he or she may better understand the divorce. you all need to determine how much information you want to give and how to approach the divorce with your child. Nobody knows your child better than you and your spouse. This may be the blessing and curse of your divorce since you are losing a relationship with the person who is cared for your child the most other than yourself.
Whatever you decide to do, you need to work it out in advance with your spouse what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Once you have had the initial conversation with your special needs child the lessons of that conversation and the practical reinforcement behind the conversation need to occur over and over. Your special needs child is less likely to internalize the information you gave and instead will be looking for a real-world examples of how you and your spouse are going to ensure that he or she has a long lasting and trustful relationship with both parents.
Take the time to be there for your child no matter the challenges
going through a divorce in the coronavirus era is likely to be especially stressful. Not only do we have considerations to make in regard to the divorce, but you also likely have concerns regarding your job, your health, and your child's future. As we hopefully begin to emerge from the worst of this pandemic, I cannot stress to you enough how important it is for you to spend time with your child during the divorce. Your special needs child needs you to be able to connect with him or her on an emotional and physical level, perhaps more than a non-special needs child would.
Even if it means doing less in other areas of your life, you need to be able to be there physically for your child during the divorce. If you choose to have a boilerplate conversation with your special needs child and then never physically or emotionally reinforce what you discussed in that conversation the lessons will never sink in and the benefit of that conversation will be mitigated. Instead, do what you have to do to be there physically, in person with special needs child to help answer his or her questions and to just spend time with him or her.
Work with your family law attorney to ensure the divorce decree protects your special needs child
finally, if special provisions need to be included in your divorce final orders in regard to your special needs child then you need to work with your family law attorney on this. Special consideration maybe given to naming a particular teacher, counselor or Doctor Who can help you and your spouse problem solved through future issues. Or, one parent or the other may be better equipped to make decisions in regard to medical, psychological or educational issues. Whatever the case may be, you will need to determine if special provisions need to be included in your final decree of divorce to help your child when it comes to Visitation, possession or conservatorships issues.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone in via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about Texas family law and for our attorneys to share with you the services that we can provide to you and your family as clients of ours.