How to Talk to Kids About Divorce 

July 26, 2022

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

How to Talk to Kids About Divorce 

It’s never easy to go through a separation or divorce, and it’s even more challenging when children are involved. For kids, divorce can feel catastrophic; like their whole world has been flipped upside down. Some kids may feel angry at one or both parents, while other kids may feel anxious and uncertain about the future. It’s also not uncommon for kids to feel guilty as if they’re to blame for the problems that exist at home. Given this, it’s hugely important that divorcing parents know how to talk to kids about divorce and ensure that they understand that they are not to blame and that a plan is in place to ensure a smooth transition into this next chapter in the family story.

If you are considering divorce or separation in Indiana, it would be wise to retain the services of an experienced Indiana divorce attorney. Whether you are facing an uncontested divorce or need guidance as you work through a complex and contentious divorce in Indiana, the divorce attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP can provide a listening ear and a helpful hand. With us at your side, you can be confident that your case is in trustworthy, professional hands. 

Child Custody, Support, and Visitation in Indiana 

Before outlining how to best talk to kids about divorce, it’s important to understand Indiana Divorce laws and how they pertain to child custody, child visitation, and child support. If you have children under the age of 18, your divorce proceedings will address the topics of child custody, child support, and parenting time. If these topics aren’t resolved in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), the proceedings will be heard by a judge. The court will determine each parent’s rights and obligations concerning custody, support, and parenting time, and will memorialize these determinations in an order or decree. 

Child Custody in Indiana 

In Indiana, parents may have either joint custody or sole custody. As defined in Indiana Code § 31-9-2-67, “joint custody” means the two parents will have shared responsibility and authority to make major decisions regarding the child’s life. In other words, if you and your ex-spouse have joint legal custody, you would both have a say when it comes to significant aspects of raising the child/children, such as healthcare, education, and religious instruction. Sole legal custody, on the other hand, means that the one parent with custody will not need to consult the other parent when making decisions like those listed above.  

One phrase that is commonly misconstrued with legal custody is physical custody, which is not a legal term in the state of Indiana. Rather, physical custody refers to the parent the child is staying with, according to the parenting time or child visitation schedule. For example, if your children stay with their other parent on the weekends, that parent will have physical custody of them during that period.  

Child Visitation in Indiana 

While major life decisions regarding the children are covered in child custody, more day-to-day matters are determined by the parent that the child is with when the matter arises. If you and your ex-spouse are not able to agree on a parenting time (also known as child visitation) schedule the court will apply the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines to come to an arrangement. 

Child Support in Indiana 

Child support is the obligation of each parent to support the child financially. In accordance with Indiana Code 31-16, both parties must support the children of the marriage in coherence with the formula set forth in the Indiana Child Support Guidelines. When it comes to support obligations that will be calculated using the Indiana Child Support Obligation Worksheet. 

Factors Included When Determining Support Obligation 

  • Income earned by each parent, including bonuses and overtime 
  • Total number of children 
  • Amount of overnights that each parent has with the child/children 
  • Total number of other children for whom a parent has a separate child support obligation 
  • Amount paid for the child’s health insurance, childcare, and related costs 

Once each parent’s support obligation is determined, the court will issue a child support order. These orders must be followed until one party successfully petitions the court to modify the order. If you fail to comply with a support order or any of the court’s child-related orders for that matter, you may be found in contempt of court. This could lead to further legal costs and/or attorney fees. In some cases, it may also lead to jail time.  

Navigating Divorce Proceedings in Indiana 

Even if you and your spouse have agreed on child custody, visitation, and support prior to filing for divorce in Indiana, issues can always arise that complicate your divorce proceedings. It would be in your best interests to hire an attorney as early in the process as possible. The Indianapolis divorce attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP are very familiar with child custody law and know precisely what types of evidence courts are looking for when determining parenting time orders in Indiana. If you need help efficiently navigating a divorce in Indiana, our team is ready to assist you. Schedule a free, confidential consultation today.  

Five Tips for How to Talk to Kids About Divorce 

While the laws surrounding child custody, visitation, and support in Indiana will ultimately guide what life looks like for your children post-divorce, it’s important to begin talking to your kids about divorce as early in the process as possible. This will allow them to begin processing the situation and open the door for ongoing discussions about what they can expect as you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse enter divorce proceedings.

  • Be Honest and Empathetic. Honesty is the foundation of any good relationship, but it’s especially true when it comes to the relationship between parent and child. When you talk to your kids about divorce, you should be as honest as possible, while also continuing to be age appropriate. Answer any questions they have for you, acknowledge their feelings, and make sure they know that they’re not at fault for the divorce. Most importantly, make sure that they know that both of you love them unconditionally, and that will never change regardless of the family situation.  
  • Discuss Changes and Logistics. For many kids, the biggest source of anxiety in the event of divorce is how it will affect their lives on a day-to-day basis. Acknowledge the fact that some aspects of their life will change, but also make sure to address what will stay the same. Kids tend to find comfort in their routines, so having time to process the effects of the divorce on their life will be beneficial for them in the long run.  
  • Let The Kids Talk. As a parent, it’s natural to want to control the conversation, but it’s also very important that you let the kids talk and vent to you. Listen to your kids and give them the space to share their feelings and emotions. If they have a hard time talking about what they’re feeling, help them find their words or allow them to express themselves in the way they want to communicate.  
  • Be Patient. Initial conversations about divorce can be very tough for kids. They may be angry during or after that first conversation and might want to place blame. Allow them to do so, knowing that it’s only just one part of their grieving process. Over time, they’ll be able to fully process what’s happening and be more receptive to conversations about the divorce.  
  • Make the Conversation Dynamic and Ongoing. When you talk to kids about divorce, it’s important to understand that one conversation is rarely going to suffice. These types of situations require multiple or ongoing conversations that develop over time. Kids need time to process, so keep the door open for future discussions and make sure that your kids know that they can come to you at any time if they want to talk about the divorce.  

If you’re going through a divorce in Indiana and find it challenging to talk to your kids about divorce, you may want to seek assistance from a counselor, psychologist, or dedicated marriage and family therapist (commonly known as MFTs). Marriage and family therapists are licensed mental health professionals who have been trained in psychotherapy and family systems. They will be able to help manage conflict during divorce and help children cope with the uncertainty and upheaval of their parents’ divorce.   

When Talking to Your Kids about Divorce, Keep it Age-Appropriate  

Talking to a 6-year-old about divorce is much different than talking to a 16-year-old about divorce. Make sure that when you begin to address the topic, you keep the conversation age appropriate. This might mean tailoring the conversation about divorce to each child and having separate conversations with individual children, especially those of different ages. 

Younger children tend to process simple, straightforward details better. They often see the world in black and white, so keeping the details of the divorce concise is important. For instance, rather than explaining the entire situation in detail, simple statements like, “Mommy and Daddy are going to live in different homes,” might be easier for them to understand. You may also choose to help them understand what’s happening by reading children’s books about divorce with them. No matter what approach you take when you talk to kids about divorce, make sure they know that they can always come to you with questions or feelings.  

Speaking with teenage children about divorce can be more challenging, as they better understand the nuances of what’s going on between their parents. Teenagers tend to either respond to conversations about divorce in either a vulnerable or stand-offish way. Therefore, it’s best to allow them to have in-depth conversations with you and to address the context of the situation, to the extent that’s appropriate. Teenagers are much more likely to become angry with parents going through a divorce, and if that’s the case, allow them to express themselves. Be nurturing and make sure they know that no matter what, you will be there for them.  

Even adult children may still have difficulty processing their parents’ divorce. While adults often have the capacity to understand the context of the divorce and to empathize with both parents, it would still be wise to discuss with your soon-to-be ex-spouse how you’ll address the topic with your older children. One of the more common things that adults struggle with when their parents get divorced is the question of, “was my whole childhood a lie?” Think about how to address a concern like that, and ways to comfort them if they struggle with the situation.  

When it comes to how to talk to kids about divorce, just remember that every child is different. There is no one-size-fits-all way to speak with your children about divorce. The best thing that you can do is choose to work together with the children’s other parent to figure out the best way to have this difficult conversation. Come to an agreement about how to address the topic with each child and formulate a plan for how and when the discussions will take place. Presenting a consistent and united front will help the children respond and begin to cope in a constructive manner.  

Need Assistance with an Indiana Divorce? 

Balancing the emotional, financial, and legal implications of divorce is often too much for one person to handle on their own. An experienced Indiana divorce attorney can take some of that burden off you and be an advocate for you and/or your loved ones.

When you hire an attorney from Keffer Hirschauer LLP, you will be represented by skilled, driven litigators and negotiators. Contact us today at 317-648-9560 or schedule a free, confidential consultation to learn more about your situation and how our Indianapolis law firm may be able to help you.  

 

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