What do we tell the kids?
As family law lawyers we often receive questions on how to approach children during the difficult time of separation or divorce. Whether the child is a toddler or of high school age, most children will have questions about the process and how their life will be affected by their parent's separation.
We've compiled a list of topics that we advise our clients to keep in mind when speaking to their children. By no means is this list exhaustive but a guide to use if needed. Ultimately when speaking to your children about separation it's important to show your child that you're doing all you can to be cooperative and amicable with your ex. Just remember you may be separating from your ex but your children are not, nor will they ever. The goal when approaching your children about this topic is to develop a nourishing and rich living environment with boundaries and support.
Ideally both parents will be on the same page about when and how to tell your child. This kind of news should come from both parents at the same time if possible so the children can ask questions and feel supported by each parent. However it is often the case where both parents may not be in a position to speak to the children jointly so at the very least try to discuss with your ex partner how you plan to approach this conversation and when this discussion should occur.
Do not blame
Children often blame themselves for their parents' separation. It is exceptionally important that your children understand that the reasons for the separation are not due to any of their own actions. Children will require the love and support of both parents during this difficult time and it should be given to them in copious amounts with no strings attached. Children should not be made to feel that they have to choose sides and both parents should be cognizant not to alienate the children from the other parent.
It is important to be up front and honest with your children about the separation process. But more importantly you don’t need to involve them in the nitty gritty details. If you and your ex are disagreeing about certain issues to do with the children or financial issues the last thing you want to do is involve them. This means talking to your family law lawyer in private and not speaking to your children about Court or other legal matters in any detail. It also means storing Court documents and other similar paperwork in a safe and secure place. It is okay to let your children know that you often have meetings with important people about this new chapter in their life, and that these people often have to talk very seriously about making the right decisions for not only you but your children. It's okay to tell your children that you may have disagreements with your ex about certain things but most importantly is to let them know that you are working together to try to resolve them.
Keep emotions in check
When separating from your ex there is no doubt you are going through a tremendous amount of emotional and financial stress This is a time for you to lean on your own family members, counsellors or other professionals to help you through these difficult times. Your children are simply not that person to rely on during this time for emotional support. It is unfair to your children to hear you vent about your ex or to hear disparaging remarks about them. Your ex is always going to be your child's mother or father and your child may resent you as he or she gets older if you talk disparagingly about a parent who they love and identify with.
Third party contact
Even if you believe your child is happy and healthy, a separation can be a very stressful and challenging time for any child. Because of this your child may not feel comfortable sharing with you everything he or she is feeling or going through. This is not because they don’t trust you with their feelings. It may simply be that they do not want to hurt you. Encourage communication between siblings or a trusted third party such as a licensed child psychologist or counselor. It is vital that your child be presented with a safe and secure option to voice their feelings and concerns without fear of hurting either parent. You may also learn some valuable tools and information from the child psychologist or counselor to enable you to better support your child through these difficult times.
When all else fails try simply spending extra time with your child. Whether it be reading a story book, going on an outing or simply just hanging out, more often than not your child simply wants to know that they are loved and that they will not be left behind.
(We would like to thank Karen Ellis from Be Well Psychology for her advice and help with this article)
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