After the initial explanation of your separation, there will come a time where you need to explain the new living situation with your children. Explaining custody to children can be a challenge depending on their age and their exposure to others in similar situations. Children who have friends with separated parents will understand it better, generally.
Explaining Custody to Children of Different Ages
Newborn through Toddler Age
During this stage of life, explaining custody to children seems a little redundant. It is unnecessary to tell your two year old that you will only see them during the week. They are simply too young to understand this. As long as the child is healthy and taken care of, that’s all they need right now.
School Age through Pre-Teen
At this point, children can understand that you are going to court. They will have questions about what is happening. When answering, be honest but age appropriate. Remember not to bash your ex in front of them. Explaining custody to children of this age is important because they need to understand what is going on. Young children may need to talk to the judge or talk about it with law guardians. In these cases, assure your child they are not in trouble and nothing they say can get them, or you, in trouble. These special attorneys are there to help.
Pre-Teens and Teenagers
At this point in your child’s life, they recognize divorce and what it means. Explaining custody to children of this age may be difficult because they may not understand the court’s reasoning or ruling. Many times, children of this age will be asked their opinions of custody. While these opinions will be taken into consideration, the court may ultimately rule in opposition. It is always in best interest of the child, but it can be hard to explain that to a teenager. Pre-teens and teenagers are in a tender time of their lives. They are full of confusion and emotion. Be understanding and listen to what they have to say.
Explaining custody to children can be especially confusing if your child does not understand that their parents are not together. Being open and honest throughout this time is the best way to make sure all children get heard. If you have children who are in different stages of their childhood, tell them together. The older child(ren) can ask more questions later, but explaining the new custody agreement does not need to be a secret. Telling them together offers some comfort and security.