Should You Wait until Your Children Are Older to Divorce?

By: Randall Kessler
Last Update: October 29, 2016

What a difficult question! One thing I know is that there is no right answer or a “One Size Fits All” answer. This is a question worthy of much forethought and consideration. A worthy therapist would likely be better suited to answer this, so I highly recommend that anyone struggling with this question consult a highly recommended therapist to help them answer it.

But all those caveats aside, one thing I have heard over and over from mental health experts (therapists, psychologists, and others) at various family law seminars, is that children whose parents divorce when they are very young, infants or toddlers, seem to adapt to the divorce much better. After all, their “normal” is growing up with parents who live apart. Compare and contrast that to a child who grows up in an intact household only to learn one day that the home environment he has known his whole life is about to change. I once heard a judge chastise a father for moving another woman into the marital home after the wife left, but before the divorce was final. His description and analogy still sits in my memory after 20 years. He told the father that he should view things from the child’s perspective. He said that the child’s entire empire has fallen. But to make it worse, the father just installed a new emperor. But again, if the “new emperor” is installed early in a child’s life, it may be more normal - the child may grow up knowing that mommy and step-daddy live in one place, while daddy and step-mommy live somewhere else.

So that is my take on divorcing when children are toddlers vs. teenagers. But that does not answer the question of should you wait to divorce when the children are older -  if they are already 10, 11 or 12. That is a tough one. And the answer, of necessity, depends on what the other option is. That is, how bad is the environment at home for them if the divorce is delayed? Will a divorce be better or worse for the children, given their current environment? This may well be a question not just for a therapist for the parents, but for a child’s therapist.

But what have I learned over time? In my nearly 30 years of practicing divorce law, many times I have had clients whose main hesitation in moving forward was that they feared it would harm the children. Yet when it is over, the most common comment I hear is that the kid(s) asked their parent(s) what took them so long. Kids get it. Kids know when their parents are unhappy, and kids want their parents to be happy. Yes, they generally want them to stay together, but happily. And the one thing I know to be true is that no one has all the answers. No one can predict the future and how a decision will change lives. So my best advice is to be cautious. Get input wherever you can from the children’s therapist, from your own therapist, from family and friends. And listen to what your children are telling you. No, I do not suggest asking a child if they want their parents to divorce. But watch them, observe them and listen to them. They may give you signs, or they may even simply tell you how they feel. And if they don’t (or even if they do), then you have one of the most difficult jobs in the world: the job of being a good parent and making good decisions for your kids. And the only way to do that is with as much forethought and consideration as possible. I wish I had THE answer, but the only answer is that there is no right answer. Time will tell, but at least if you consider your actions and decisions carefully, and accept input from those who care and those who have experience (such as therapists, psychologists and the like), you should feel like you have done what you could to ensure the best for your child. I wish all who have to make this terribly difficult decision peace and success in their efforts to do the right thing for their children.

Randall M. Kessler has practiced family law since 1988 and is the founder of Kessler & Solomiany.

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