Helping Children Deal with Divorce
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
If you separate and/or end your relationship, more decisions must be made at a time when you may have bad feelings about the other parent. Being prepared with good conflict-resolution skills and knowing how to find help if you can't resolve the conflict on your own will make things easier for your children. #3207EN
- Should I read this?
- What can I do before I even have children?
- My spouse/partner and I fight all the time. It seems like divorce would be only a good thing for my children as well as us parents.
- Can I do anything to help protect my children from any negative effects of my divorce?
- How can we keep our children out of the middle of our divorce?
- Should we talk about the divorce with or around the children?
- How can the divorce process help?
You are a parent thinking about ending your marriage or domestic partnership
You and your partner are thinking about making your relationship permanent and/or having children
you are interested in improving your parenting skills
Other publications at our website, www.washingtonlawhelp.org, have more information regarding the divorce process, and forms and instructions. If you have questions about your situation, talk to a lawyer.
*State law about marriage and divorce also applies to marriages between same-sex couples. The Legal Voice's publication called Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Washington has more information. See www.legalvoice.org.
Before you get married, you both should have talked about parenting issues, including:
Whether and when to have children
Values about raising children
Ideas about parenting
How to divide responsibility for parenting
If you disagree on those issues, decide before you get married and have children how you will work out parenting and other disagreements in the future.
Can you sit down and talk together?
Does family counseling help?
Can a clergy member help with those issues?
*If there is domestic violence in your relationship, do not use these methods of resolving conflict. Call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025 for more information about how to protect yourself and your children.
Before having children, make sure your relationship with your spouse/partner is healthy and stable and you have good skills in place for resolving conflict. Having children means:
more decisions to make
more chances for disagreements
My spouse/partner and I fight all the time. It seems like divorce would be only a good thing for my children as well as us parents.
How divorce affects children is complicated. Divorce puts adults and children under a lot of stress.
Some experts believe the stress and changes divorce causes make parenting skills worse. Some studies report children of divorce may be more likely to:
Have poorer physical health
Do poorly in school
Abuse alcohol and drugs
Not all children suffer such negative effects. About 75% of children of divorce are okay. They may need time to get to this point after finding out you are breaking up.
If you separate and/or end your relationship, you must make more decisions at a time when you may have bad feelings about the other parent. Be ready with good conflict-resolution skills. Know how to find help if you cannot settle things on your own. This will make things easier for your children.
*Read For Better or Worse by Mavis Hetherington. The author is a psychologist who conducted a 25-year study of children whose parents divorce. You can get this book and many other books on marriage, divorce, and parenting at the public library.
Work with your spouse/partner. Make sure you both have strong, positive relationships with your children and you both are involved in parenting while you are together. You must help maintain the children's relationship with the other parent.
Washington law supports children having strong, continued relationships with both parents. The law also recognizes there may be cases where a court should limit a parent's time with a child because of:
a parent's abusive use of conflict
other parenting problems
Make sure you have a support system. Encourage your spouse to have one, too.
*Neither of you should use your children as a source of support.
Your children's well-being depends on the well-being of both parents. Anything you do that harms the other parent also harms your children.
Decide how you and your spouse/partner will communicate and settle disagreements about the children after the divorce/separation. Do not use the children as go-betweens or messengers. Do not involve them in adult conflicts about parenting, child support, or other issues related to your divorce.
If you separate or file for divorce, make sure there is a good child support order in place so the children have enough support in the home/s where they are living. If you are the parent paying support, pay your child support regularly and on time.
This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of June 2016.
© 2016 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)