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What Can I Say to My Kids? What Should I Not Say to My Kids During a Divorce?

This question gets asked quite frequently. I have tried to bullet point a list of what to say and what not to say to kids while you are involved in a divorce or custody dispute with the other parent of your children.

Things to say

  1. Your mom and I both love you and are going to do everything possible to figure out a solution that will work for all of us.
  2. This is not your fault.
  3. If you would like someone else to talk to about this that isn’t your mother or me I will get that set up for you. This could be a counselor, priest, trusted relative, or family friend.
  4. Our divorce will not change who you are. Your dad and I will do everything possible to ensure you still get to play basketball, hang out with your friends, and have the same routine at both households.
  5. It is not your responsibility or job to fix our marriage or settle our dispute.  
  6. Marriage can be great and you should get married some day. Just because our marriage hasn’t worked out doesn’t mean that you won’t find someone great.
  7. You have a Guardian ad Litem. That is an attorney who is there to protect you and look out for your best interests. You can always talk to the Guardian ad Litem.
  8. Your mom and I both love you in our own way and we always will.
  9. Answer children’s questions in an age appropriate way. Q: Are you getting divorced because dad drinks too much? A: Yes but it’s not your fault. Don’t go into more detail than you need to but don’t lie or try to cover for the other parent if their behavior is obvious and affects your children when they are with them.

Things not to say

  1. We are going to court today and I really hope your dad behaves himself. Talking about when court is scheduled, when you have spoken with your attorney, when you received a settlement offer, etc. is all inappropriate. Your children don’t need to know finite details of the divorce such as who your husband’s attorney is, etc.
  2. What did your Dad say about me this past weekend? What did your Mom say about me when you saw her after school? Tell me everything. Pumping the children about what goes on at the other parent’s house is always inappropriate. Respect his/her time.
  3. You know we’re getting divorced because your mom cheated on me. If your mom would have disciplined you the way I do we wouldn’t be getting divorced. If he wasn’t such a big spender we wouldn’t be in this situation. Placing blame on the other parent is always the wrong thing to say to your child.
  4. If you don’t straighten up you know you will be the cause of the divorce. Never blame the child for your divorce even if parenting issues are a central factor in the why you are getting divorced.
  5. I can’t afford to pay for your basketball shoes because your dad didn’t pay child support this month. Custody and child support are not related as far as the judge is concerned. You cannot withhold visitation just because someone doesn’t pay child support and you shouldn’t discuss support or reimbursement of kid expenses with your child.
  6. Tell your mom you want to go to your friend’s birthday party/sleepover. Tell your mom to buy the teacher a gift. Tell your mom XXX. Do not relay messages through your children. Email, call or text the other parent yourself.
  7. My therapist says your dad is a narcissistic, bi-polar asshole. Talking to your child about what other people have said about the other parent is also inappropriate.
  8. Your father is an abuser who doesn’t really love you. He only cares about himself. Your mother is a whore. Your dad is mean. Calling the other parent names or disparaging the other parent is always inappropriate.

When in doubt find a therapist and seek out advice about how to talk to your child while going through a divorce or custody battle.