Jonathan Marks, STLMoms: How to tell kids about divorce

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Margie: It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and for parents considering divorce, the best advice might be to keep it that way for your children. Family law attorney Jonathan Marks is here this morning with why actually making that choice may be better after the holidays. Good morning to you.

Jonathan: Good morning, Margie.

Margie: Yeah, so, I mean, it is a great time of the year, so why ruin it with that news if you can hold off?

Jonathan: If you can hold off, it’s always the best thing to do for the kids’ sake, it doesn’t mean that you and your spouse shouldn’t be taking steps to move forward on how you’re going to be dissolving the marriage or legally separating, it just means that you have to have that line in the sand as to when is the best choice to sit down with your kids and really have that family discussion as to what’s going to be happening after the holidays.

Margie: Yeah, and clearly you want to talk to your spouse before you want to talk to your children.

Jonathan: It would be a great idea to do so, yes. Certainly you want to have that collaborative effort. It’s very difficult going through this particular time period when you’re splitting up a family, obviously. But if you have the ability to sit down as parents, make that decision together, and then express it together to the children, it’s going to make it much easier for them to see that their parents are united in that front in what the decision is going forward.

Margie: Yeah, and during this conversation, remain calm and avoid blaming.

Jonathan: The worst thing you can do from a child perspective is to sit there and place blame on one of the parents because they don’t need to be involved in that situation. In reality, you and your spouse are splitting and you’re going to have that blame game, but you don’t want it to be a part of what the situation is within the household. It also makes the child have to make a decision every time they’re with one of the parents individually as to how they’re supposed to respond and react to various questions and various comments that are made about their other parent, and you don’t want to put a child in the middle of that situation.

Margie: Yeah, they’re probably going to have questions, and you want to provide the details about some changes that they’re going to experience.

Jonathan: You want to make sure that they understand what the stability is as it relates to their lives. Where are they going to live when this change takes place? Is it going to affect their school? Is it going to affect the things they’re doing with their friends or their after school activities? You want to reassure the children that their day-to-day life is going to remain the same as much as possible, it just may be in a different household, there may be one less parent within the household, but their lives for the most part are going to try to remain the same.

Margie: Yeah, we’ve talked about blame, and a lot of times kids blame themselves. Reassure them of your unconditional love.

Jonathan: Absolutely. You want to make sure on a daily basis that they understand that this situation is between the parents and was not the fault of the children. There’s many reasons as to why adults go through these things, and they just need to understand that these are adult decisions and that they need to move on with their lives and you’re there and you just unconditionally love them.

Margie: Yeah, regardless of their reaction, be sensitive to whatever it is.

Jonathan: Well you don’t know what the reaction is going to be. Sometimes you’re going to get a blank stare because they just absolutely have no idea what to respond with and sometimes you’re going to get a very large emotional reaction. No matter what it is, you just need to be somewhat stoic and then sensitive to whatever the needs are of the child as they respond in that situation. And don’t have an anticipation that you think it’s going to be a certain way because then they’re going to look at you and wonder why you’re responding as if you were somewhat confused or let down by what that reaction is.

Margie: And then finally, welcome any questions they may have.

Jonathan: Yeah, and this is a difficult situation. You want to welcome the questions for purposes of explaining thing that are going to affect them. So, you know, when it’s those going back to the day-to-day situation, that makes perfect sense to have those discussions and be able to provide concrete answers. But when it’s discussions and questions that are involving why are things happening or what is going on between you and the other parent, you have to be careful because you don’t want to give the impression that you’re asking the child to choose sides and you don’t want to be blaming the other parent for anything because that’s going to create a lot of anxiety for the children and you just want to avoid that at all costs.

Margie: Yeah, some good advice to get through a difficult conversation. Thank you so much, family law attorney Jonathan Marks, for his time this morning. For more information on The Marks Law Firm, head to

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