Announcing a divorce
We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone. When adapting to challenging times, parents, children and extended family need to demonstrate flexibility and openness so that the child's interests are put first as much as possible.
It is important to be well prepared before announcing your divorce to your child, as this may become a very significant moment in your child's life. Without a doubt, it is a difficult situation for everyone involved. Try to find a time when your child is in a good mood, for example, at the dinner table. Accept that your child may want to leave the table and go to their room if they need some time alone to digest the news. A safe space will be comforting for your child to express their emotions. Choose your words wisely; be honest and sincere.
It is important to reassure your child and let them know that you will both always be there for them. This talk will be a difficult moment for your family, but it is a mark of respect that you are giving your child by being honest with them. This approach is also less likely to negatively affect your child. You will all need to grieve the experience, which is ok. It is a normal process. For your child's benefit, both parents should be involved in this process to demonstrate to your child that you are both available to offer support.
Your child needs to be able to hear about the divorce from both parents. Ideally, both parents should prepare the announcement together, even if this is difficult to ask given the circumstances. The message to your child must be coherent. Both parents will need to choose their words ahead of time, to avoid contradiction and spreading blame. The child should be addressed directly and therefore your choice of words should not contain any blame towards the other parent. If one parent is absent, the child may misinterpret their absence and worry needlessly.
However, there are circumstances in which it is impossible for both parents to be present. The parent who tells their child about the divorce should refrain from placing any blame on the absent parent.
The best time to tell your child about your divorce is once the decision is final and the plans are already set in motion for your separation. Children, even young ones, realize quite quickly once something has changed in their parents' relationship. Should they question your relationship before you've had a chance to sit them down and talk, it may be wise to answer their questions. If the finalization of a move, or sale of the house is approaching, and they still have not asked any questions, the time has come to have a frank and open discussion. It is not beneficial nor recommended to leave them in the dark.
The main message to deliver to your child is that although mom and dad are no longer a couple, you both remain their parent, you love them very much and you will always be there for them. Your child does not need to know the details of your breakup, even if they witnessed conflict in your relationship. It is also important to tell them that they are not responsible for your breakup, that this is an adult decision, and that you will both do all that you can to make this change in the family life as easy and positive as possible. Remain available at all times to listen to them and answer their questions.
Children need both their parents to foster positive development. They will need to spend time at each parent's new home. As adults, you must agree that no matter what happens, your child's interest will be prioritized. We recommend that you start by talking about very concrete points, as these will make them react the most at first. Where will we live? Will we stay at the same school or daycare? Where will our toys be? When will we spend time with mom? With dad? Our clothes? Sports? Friends? What will happen to the cat? Use a calendar that you can color code, for example, to indicate which days will be spent at mom's house and which will be spent at dad's.
Often, the child has already felt a change in the family dynamic: hearing parents argue, seeing that they no longer share a bedroom etc. Telling your child about your divorce will most likely confirm their perception of the new family dynamic, which may reassure them despite the bad news. The importance here is to explain to them that they are not the cause of the divorce. You do not want them to feel guilty or to start acting differently because they think that they are the reason for your separation. A child's biggest preoccupation is generally focused on daily life: the house, daycare, school, friends, what will the changes be?
When faced with a divorce, a child may experience many emotions or internal conflicts: loyalty, grief, blame towards their parents. In a child under the age of 12, they may react with anger, sadness, anxiety or regressed behaviour. They may manifest different attitudes at home and at school (ex, become more introverted or more excited than usual). An open discussion with them is therefore recommended. Getting to know friends of theirs that are going through the same situation will also help them develop a concrete image of what the future will hold for them.
A teenager may often choose one parent over the other to minimize their feelings of instability when dealing with divorce. They will also be more direct in their ways of expressing their sadness. It will be important to take the time to listen to them so that they feel they are being heard and understood by their parents. At any age, the child often secretly hopes that their parents will get back together.
It is mandatory to report a divorce by phone to both the provincial and federal government. There are many types of assistance programs to which you have access while going through your separation, so don't be shy to ask questions. Transitioning from two salaries to one can require a reorganization of your budget. If you qualify for certain assistance programs, you will have to complete several forms and return them by mail. For your separation to be considered valid in the eyes of the government and to benefit from an adjustment on child support, you must be living in separate addresses for at least the last three months.
Free family mediation services for couples with children are also available. Mediation is a voluntary step taken by both parties to negotiate the modalities of the divorce, for example shared custody, splitting assets, child support payments, etc. This service allows you to avoid a long, difficult and often costly judicial process.