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Tips for explaining custody arrangements to kids during divorce

If you are divorcing and your parenting plan includes shared custody, your children need to understand what that means for them. Below are some suggestions for explaining to the kids how the changes will affect them.

As hard as it may be, it's best for both parents to break the news together to the kids. Be non-judgmental but accessible, and be prepared to answer concrete questions they will have about the changes they face.

Make sure that both parents reassure the children that they are loved by both Dad and Mom and — this is very important — they are in no way responsible for the divorce. Children tend to blame themselves when a marriage breaks up, thinking that if only they had behaved better/gotten better grades/not gotten into trouble at school the marriage would have remained intact.

In addition to explaining all of the changes the kids will be experiencing, reinforce to them all of the important things that will remain the same. Remind them that Dad will still be coaching softball, and that beloved pets will still be waiting for them at Mom's house.

Try to make as few changes to their lifestyles as possible. Regardless of which parent moves out of the family home, do everything you can to make sure the kids don't have to change schools and disrupt friendships. If some changes are inevitable, try to time a school change at the natural breaks in the year, e.g., in the fall or after the first of the year.

Some kids roll with changes better than others, but appearances can be deceiving. Don't be so sure that a casual shrug isn't hiding deeper fears and worries about the future. If you suspect that your child is internalizing blame or struggling to cope, ask your family law attorney or your child's pediatrician to recommend a therapist for a few sessions.

Source: Parents, "Explaining Shared Custody to Kids," Kate Bayless, accessed May 05, 2017

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