Part 2: Prior to Divorce
Considerations Prior to Filing for Dissolution of Marriage
Dissolving your marriage is one of the biggest emotional and financial
decisions in a person's life. It will affect your home, finances,
and children well into the future. Although it may be difficult to focus
on your upcoming divorce, you will be far better off in the long-run if
you carefully plan for this major event. This section suggests some initial
considerations before you file your petition for dissolution of marriage.
Most of this advice also applies to people who suspect that their husband
or wife may be planning to file for dissolution of marriage.
Recognize That Divorce Changes Everything
How will divorce change your life?
The first part of the divorce process should be to contemplate and accept
how ending your marriage will change you and your family. There are several
things that may happen between now and the time your divorce decree is
entered and your case is final:
- You may need to change where you live and modify how you run your household.
- Your children may need to change residences and/or change schools. You
may have less income, savings, retirement assets, and property.
- It is likely you will have to change your spending habits given the potential
reduction in income, and the likelihood that one family will now be living
in two separate households (with two sets of household expenses).
- You may see your children less frequently, or you may have to parent on
your own day-to-day.
- You may have to deal with a variety of emotions and stress during this time.
- Your relationships with others, especially shared friends or in-laws, may change.
That said, divorce can be a beneficial transition, especially after the
dissolution is finalized. With the right resources, Washington legal counsel,
and a resilient attitude, you and your kids can be even stronger after divorce.
You can save yourself time and money down the line if you get organized
at the beginning of your case. Be your own detective and document everything
pertinent to your financial, marital, and parenting life. You and your
lawyer will need this information later, and having it organized and accessible
early helps you stay informed and in control of the situation as the information
and documentation becomes necessary.
- Get a three-ring binder, filing system, or protected email account to document
your divorce. You may consider having separate folders or tabs for financial
information, things to discuss with your family law attorney, documents
and resources related to the children, a calendar of appointments, a to-do
list, and legal advice.
- Be aware of your credit score—and your spouse's. Obtain credit
reports from all three reporting agencies and review them for accuracy.
Monitor credit activity throughout the dissolution process.
- Copy or scan relevant documents and store them in a safe place outside
your home. This should include documents pertaining to your taxes, financial
accounts, savings, investments, etc.
- Locate where your passport (know where your children's passports are as well).
- Keep a list of the locations (and where keys are kept) for your files of
safe-deposit boxes, and offsite storage units.
- Take some time to think about your parenting. Then write down how you would
describe your parenting to a stranger. Think about your spouse's parenting.
Write down how you would describe their parenting as well. Include in
your descriptions how much time you and your spouse each see your children.
Who makes their meals, delivers them to school, and performs the bedtime
routine? Has your spouse ever cared for your children alone for significant
amounts of time? Have you? Does your spouse know the names of your children's
teachers, coaches, daycare providers, and doctors? Do you? Who takes your
children to appointments or practices? Do your children have any special
needs or disabilities? Who attends their therapies? Who attends parent-teacher
conferences? In addition to the general descriptions described above,
document and detail who performs these daily parenting responsibilities
in a daily journal.
- List any past occurrences of possible domestic violence, whether it involves
you or your children. If the police were called to your home, obtain any
police reports documenting the incident. If someone sustained injuries
and was treated, obtain any doctors' reports. Keep records of any
further abuse or neglect in your daily journal.
- Make a list of your human resources. Professionals, such as your tax professional
or children's teacher, might have useful information for your divorce.
Others, such as your friends, family members, clergy, or counselor, might
simply provide emotional support.
- Monitor your monthly account statements more carefully, and keep track
of any significant changes in your family's spending, income, or account balances.
Understand Your Financial Situation
The more you can discover now about your family's finances, the more
you will likely save in time, legal fees, and possible lost opportunities
during your Washington divorce case. Utilizing the organization system
from the previous section, learn everything you can about your money and
assets. Photocopy or scan all relevant documents. Be cautious about discussing
your plans with your tax professional or stockbroker at this point, as
he or she can also communicate with your spouse and may inadvertently
let slip your intention to end your marriage. Maintain your tax and other
asset records offsite and away from the family residence.
KNOW YOUR DEBTS. Especially after reviewing your credit reports, list your individual
debts, your spouse's, and those you own jointly. Are there any close
to being paid off? Make copies of relevant documents, including mortgage
documents and credit cards statements.
KNOW YOUR ASSETS. Create a list of banks, stockbrokers, and other places where you or your
spouse have accounts, including account numbers and approximate values.
Include accounts created in your children's names, such as trust or
college accounts. List retirement accounts. List all real property, with
values. List vehicles, with values. List significant personal property,
such as art or jewelry, and their values. Make your best guess as to whether
each asset is owned by both or only one of you. Copy your latest account
statements and check registers. Inventory your safe deposit boxes and
offsite storage lockers and take date stamped pictures of contents.
KNOW YOUR FUTURE ASSETS. Do you or your spouse own stock options? When do they vest? What is their
strike price? Are either of you anticipating an inheritance or trust account
payment? Copy your own and your spouse's annual social security statement,
or obtain new ones from your local social security office (or online).
KNOW YOUR AND YOUR SPOUSE'S INCOME. How much do you earn per year? Are you compensated in addition to your
salary (ex. commissions, bonuses or deferred compensation)? How much does
your spouse earn each year? Is your spouse compensated in addition to
his or her salary? If one of you is unemployed or underemployed, how much
do you think the unemployed or underemployed person could earn if they
worked full-time? Do either of you need school training, credentials,
or licensing to improve employment opportunities? If either spouse is
self-employed, what are some accounting documents that can help determine
the amount that spouse earns and their business expenses?
KNOW YOUR INSURANCE. Copy your health, dental, vision, life, boat, automobile, and homeowner's policies.
KNOW YOUR TAXES. Make copies of the last few years' tax returns, including schedules
and supporting documents, W-2's, 1099's, etc.
KNOW YOUR VITAL STATISTICS. Make copies of your marriage license, social security cards, birth certificates,
and passports, if any. Also make copies of your children's social
security cards, birth certificates, and passports, if any.
KNOW YOUR CURRENT HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES. How much do you really spend on your expenses each month? Include annual
or quarterly expenses as well as monthly ones.
ESTIMATE YOUR FUTURE HOUSEHOLD EXPENSES. What is the minimum you need to support yourself and your children?
Consult a Washington Divorce Lawyer
It is important that you consult with a Washington divorce attorney prior
to initiating the dissolution process. At your initial meeting, the divorce
attorney will likely explain his or her experience with cases like yours
in Washington. The attorney will provide some insight about potential
problem areas, as well as areas that may be more easily resolved. The
attorney will also advise you about the general process of divorce in
Washington, and suggest what you should do first to start your dissolution
on the right track. The attorney may provide a rough estimate for how
long your Washington divorce will take, how much you can anticipate spending,
and how to begin working together. During and after your consultation,
take notes on how you liked the Washington attorney and whether your attorney
made it possible for you to understand his or her advice.
What should I bring to an initial consultation?
Schedule an introductory appointment with a Washington divorce attorney
and bring the information you have gathered so far. Be sure that all documents
you bring are well-organized so you don't waste your appointment shuffling
through papers. Include a list of your questions and a short (one-page)
summary of your situation. Include the following information:
- You and your spouse's names;
- Your ages;
- Length of your marriage;
- Whether you have ever been separated from your spouse, and whether there
are separation or prenuptial agreements;
- You and your spouse's professions and incomes (if one of you is unemployed,
list when he or she was last employed and include income and employer
at that time);
- If you have children include their ages, and whether you or your spouse
are pregnant now (include any stepchildren);
- Whether you or your spouse are engaged in extramarital affairs, especially
if you have children (this is irrelevant to whether you can get divorced
but may affect how a court allocates custody or parenting time);
- Whether either of you are in the military; and
- Whether there has been any domestic violence, or if you fear for you or
your children's safety.
Can I interview several Washington divorce attorneys?
Yes. You can interview as many attorneys as you want to. You should feel
comfortable with the attorney's ability to represent you. Do not worry
about meeting with and providing your information to multiple attorneys.
Each attorney you consult with is thereafter unable to represent your spouse.
Does divorce have to be a mean fight?
Whether divorce is a mean fight or an amicable resolution is up to you
and your spouse. You are probably the best predictor of how contentious
your divorce will get. Think about how aggressive you and your spouse
are likely to be in divorce litigation. Can you afford (in emotions, time,
and money) an all-out court battle? Would you or your spouse consider
mediation, or collaborative or cooperative divorce (described in Part
One of this Guide)? Advise your Washington divorce attorney of what type
of behavior you expect from yourself, and your spouse. Based on the anticipated
behavior, you and your attorney can decide whether to propose mediation
or arbitration to resolve some, or all, of your divorce issues.
Can I divorce without an attorney in Washington?
You can divorce without an attorney in Washington, but be aware that an
unrepresented divorce can end up costing you more in the long run. You
may think that filing for divorce without a family lawyer will save you
money, but that is very unlikely. A Washington family law attorney can
help protect rights and benefits you might not know exist. Your divorce
attorney can also help you plan for potential changes in your life after
divorce. For more information, see "Why There Is No Such Thing as a Free Divorce" in Part One of this Guide.
Protect Your Assets
Many people think that the best way to protect their assets is to hide
them from their spouse. While this is sometimes understandable behavior
in a fast-unraveling marriage, you should be aware that it can have negative
consequences. If your case goes to trial, or even if there is any court
hearing, the court will likely review financial documents and may notice
your assets being funneled into a different account. The commissioners
and/or judges in your case may feel that you took the money as an aggressive
action to hurt your spouse instead of an action to protect yourself. Another
potential consequence of moving money around is that it may alert your
spouse to your intention of ending the marriage.
There are court actions that are available if you think your spouse may
try and steal some of your family's money and hide it. Discuss your
options with a Washington divorce attorney.
Can I take all or half of our money, before divorce?
In most cases, you can take up to half of the money from your joint accounts.
There is an exception to this rule if you taking half the money would
not leave enough in the account to make upcoming payments on joint debts,
such as the mortgage or household expenses.
Am I allowed to stop paying household bills after I move out?
In most cases, no. Until your divorce is final, or you have a final separation
agreement, you should continue to pay your joint debts and maintain the
Will I be able to keep my income separate?
Maybe. If you and your spouse both work, and household expenses are paid
from a joint account, then it would probably be fine for you to have your
income paid into a separate account (as long as you still put your portion
of the money necessary to pay household bills into the joint account).
However, if you are the sole breadwinner in the family, at least half
of your income should be put into the joint account. If the case goes
to trial, the court would probably not like to see the sole breadwinner
leave the other spouse with no access to funds. If you and your spouse
have always kept separate accounts, then you can continue the status quo.
Can I change our property into just my name?
Not without your spouse's consent. In cases where consent is obtained,
that is not necessarily enough to ensure that you will keep title to that
property when your divorce is finalized. The court can still decide to
award the property to either spouse, especially if title changed shortly
before your divorce.
Will I be able to get separate credit cards?
Yes, you can and should have a credit card in your name only. Your spouse
may be able to close joint credit accounts, and you will want to have
a separate source of credit. Please note, if your case has a hearing or
goes to trial, it is likely the court will want to see statements from
your credit card. Please note, just because you open a credit card in
your name only does not mean you should dramatically change your spending
habits while the divorce is pending. If the court sees a dramatic change
they may infer something about you and your ability to pay substantial
credit card bills.
Am I allowed to bring my possessions with me when I move out?
Maybe. If you are the one moving to a new home, you can probably take some
of the shared jointly-owned household property. But, be considerate of
leaving your children or spouse in an inhospitable situation. The court
will not look fondly on a parent leaving the house his or her children
still resides in with the majority of the furniture. Furthermore, just
because the property comes with you at the time you leave the marital
home does not mean it will be yours at the time of divorce. That might
mean moving heavy furniture twice within a relatively small timeframe.
If there is property that is your separate property, especially sentimental
items such as pre-marriage photographs and memorabilia it is probably
okay for you to take them with you. In any event, keep track of what you
take because you will to disclose these items later. It is also smart
to keep track of what items you leave behind prior to actually leaving
the house (take pictures if possible), because it may become difficult
to remember what you had after you have left the home.
Will I be able to buy new possessions with joint money?
Maybe, if you do purchase new possessions they should be small and not
outside of your family's usual spending habits. If your case goes
before a court you will likely have to account for the spending you did
around the time of separation and a family law judge will not appreciate
one spouse's overspending right before or after the petition for dissolution is filed.
Am I allowed to hide assets or lie about finances?
No. Hiding assets or income may incur severe penalties in the dissolution
process. If you have questions about what to disclose to the other party
and their attorney or how to answer the other party's inquiries, you
should discuss these concerns with your lawyer.
Will I be able to protect my accounts or assets from my spouse taking them?
Yes. If your spouse tries to sell your jointly-titled property you can
protect yourself by recording a "lis pendens" (suit pending)
with your county recorder informing potential buyers of your interest
in the property. Your spouse has no legal right to your separate property
and is unable to take that, and there is likely no practical way to take
money in your separate accounts. When your petition for dissolution is
filed the court may enter a restraining order against either spouse prohibiting
the taking or using of joint money or joint assets without court approval.
Consider Cancelling Joint Credit Cards and Debts
Parties that continue holding joint credit card accounts run the risk of
one spouse running up the credit card balance and the other spouse being
held responsible for the resulting debt. It is especially important to
avoid this problem before and during the divorce when spouses may be acting
irrationally. Accordingly, it is a good idea to limit this kind of financial
risk. Cancel joint credit cards if possible. You will probably want to
advise your spouse that you will be canceling the joint card, and he or
she should get a credit card account of their own. Obtaining a new credit
card in your name only is advisable in case you will need to access credit
during and after your Washington divorce.
Review Any Prenuptial, Community Property, and Separation Agreements
Washington law permits a couple to create a prenuptial agreement. These
agreements allow the soon-to-be married couple to decide how assets and
spousal maintenance should be handled if the marriage ends in divorce.
Married couples may also make a similar type of agreement. If couples want
to create an agreement determining the character of property, Washington
allows them to sign a community property agreement.
Separated (not the legal process described above, but couples who have
decided to end their marriage but have not completed the process) couples
also have the ability to decide how property and debts should be characterized
and divided. The agreement separated couples can make is known as a property
settlement agreement or separation contract.
If you have any of these types of agreements, you will want to review them
with your Washington divorce attorney before filing for divorce. Bring
your signed agreement to your initial consultation with a family law attorney.
you should also consult with your own independent Washington attorney before
signing any of these types of agreements.
When are prenuptial agreements valid in a divorce case?
Generally, to be valid in Washington, the prenuptial agreement must be
fair and transparent. It is more likely that an agreement will be enforced
if it makes an equitable distribution of the assets and debts, and the
parties have honestly and completely disclosed their assets and debts.
In addition, the agreement must be in writing, and both spouses must have
entered into the agreement voluntarily.
Finally, the terms of the agreement must be upheld during the entire marriage
for the agreement to be enforceable in a divorce in Washington. For example,
a prenuptial agreement might state that the marital home will go to one
particular spouse so long as that spouse pays the mortgage payments directly
from his or her income. If the couple later deposits both of their paychecks
into a joint account and pays the mortgage from that account, that term
of the prenuptial agreement may be held unenforceable.
Can a prenuptial, community property or separation agreement waive child support?
Pursuant to federal law, these agreements are not allowed to reduce or
eliminate child support. However, it is permissible to agree to more child
support than would be required by Washington law.
Obtain a Protection Order if You Were Abused
Prior to your divorced being filed in Washington, a court can enter a domestic
violence protection order to assist you. If your spouse physically abused
or assaulted you, or if your spouse has threatened you with bodily injury
or harm, you may qualify for an order of protection. This order can limit
your spouse's contact with you and/or order your spouse to leave your
home. You can also seek protection for your children with a domestic violence
order of protection. The abuse can be physical injury, an attempt at physical
injury, a threat, forced sex, or stalking. (Emotional abuse, property
damage, or threats to take your children may not be enough.) You also
need to provide evidence (typically in the form of a sworn statement)
that you are in fear of imminent bodily injury. This type of order is
temporary (up to one year). Obtaining a protection order is free in Washington,
and most Washington counties have domestic violence advocacy programs
and advocates to help you through the process. There are also other options
for people dealing with violence in the family home both prior to, during,
and after marriage. Speak with a Washington family law attorney or domestic
violence advocate if you fear for you or your children's physical safety.
Decide Which Spouse Should Move Out
People planning to end their marriage are often unsure of which spouse
should leave the family home. Before you leave the home, consider the
- WHICH SPOUSE OWNS THE HOME? If the deed is in both of your names, then
you both have a legal right to live in the home. However, either of you
may ask for a temporary court order requiring the other to leave, especially
if you are in conflict. If one spouse owns the home as their separate
property, that spouse may ask the other to vacate the home. The owner-spouse
may also change the locks, if needed. The non-owner may be able to obtain
a temporary court order allowing the non-owner to stay for a short period.
- DO YOU WANT THE HOME? Often, the spouse residing in the marital home when
the divorce is finalized will be allowed to "buy out" the other
person's share of the house equity. If the spouses do not want the
home, or neither spouse can afford the home, then usually the home is
sold and the proceeds or remaining debt will be divided equitably.
- WHICH SPOUSE IS LISTED ON THE MORTGAGE? Your mortgage company will not
be a party to your divorce and is legally allowed to collect the mortgage
debt from anyone listed on the mortgage, whether or not that spouse still
lives in the home. If your name is listed on the mortgage, you may be
held responsible for your mortgage payments, no matter where you are living.
You may try refinancing, but a divorce court usually will not require
refinancing. Sometimes refinancing can be difficult because one spouse
will not qualify for a refinance without the other party. It is worth
noting that spousal maintenance will usually not be counted as income
for purposes of a refinance until it has been consistently paid for a
period of time.
- ARE THERE MINOR CHILDREN INVOLVED? Generally, a move by either parent should
not restrict the other parent's ability to see the children. Leaving
the family home, however, may have consequences regarding the custody
of the children. If you have children, you should consult a qualified
Washington family law attorney before moving out.
- DO YOU HOPE FOR YOUR CHILDREN TO SPEND MOST OF THEIR TIME WITH YOU AFTER
THE DIVORCE? If you hope to be the primary residential parent, it may
be advisable for you to remain in the family home. Washington courts often
allow the parent with whom the children reside the majority of the time
to live in the marital home until the children are grown, if it is economically
feasible for that parent to do so. If you move away from where your children
reside, you are taking a risk that the court will find your children's
other parent to be the "primary caretaker" and name him or her
as the primary residential parent. There is also a risk of the other parent
being named primary residential parent if you take the children and move
them away from your spouse, and this negatively impacts their relationship
with the other parent.
- CAN YOU AFFORD TWO RESIDENCES? When one spouse's move leaves the other
spouse with insufficient income to pay household bills, the Washington
court can enter a temporary order requiring one spouse to assist the other
spouse in paying household bills during the dissolution process. Spouses
without adequate funds may try to proceed with the divorce while still
living in the same home. This can be complicated, emotionally and legally,
especially if there is conflict. You should definitely not continue living
together if there is any abuse. Discuss with your Washington divorce attorney
your best options for living arrangements.
- DO YOU INTEND TO MOVE FAR AWAY? If you have minor children, you should
be especially cautious of moving a great distance away with them. The
Washington courts may require the moving parent to pay all travel expenses
for the children to visit regularly with the other parent. The court may
also refuse to allow the children to move with you if you cannot show
that the move will be in the children's best interest.
- HAS YOUR PETITION FOR DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE BEEN FILED? Moving to a different
county in Washington may affect where your divorce can be filed. If the
dissolution process has already been initiated, then the case will probably
continue in the county where it was filed, and you will need to return
to that county for court hearings (including any post-divorce hearings
related to your children).
Do Not Take the Children
Prior to the divorce process, you or your spouse can take your children
and visit somewhere for a short time, with or without your spouse's
consent. Technically, you are not yet prohibited by Washington law from
moving somewhere away from your spouse with your children.
However, after you have filed a petition be extremely cautious about moving
or even traveling with your children if that reduces their time with your
spouse. If you end up in court, the commissioner or judge may not appreciate
you denying your children regular visits with their other parent and may
find that you are not acting in your children's best interests by
doing so. This finding may cause the court to rule against you in a custody decision.
After your divorce is final, under Washington's relocation statutes,
you will be prohibited from moving with your children outside of their
school district without your former spouse's permission or a court order.
Make Your Children Your Priority
How can I help my children prior to my divorce?
Whenever possible separate your feelings about your husband or wife as
a spouse from your feelings about them as a parent. Do not use your children
to punish your spouse. Not only is this best for your children, it will
likely help you when the court is determining custody. If you are hoping
to be named primary residential parent, you will need to show the Washington
court that you consistently act in your children's best interests
and that may include facilitating your children's relationship with
your spouse even after the divorce is final.
Provide your children your full attention before and during divorce. Your
children may have questions and fears as they observe the dissolution
process, especially if they witness parental conflict. While you may feel
distracted by the dissolution process, support your children by being
attentive and present in their lives. Also, try not to discuss the pending
dissolution with your spouse in front of your children.
Maintain your children's routines as much as possible, especially after
separation from your spouse. Reassure your children that both of their
parents love them and will continue to be in their lives. Your Washington
divorce attorney will be able to provide you with recommendations for
resources that may help your children throughout the divorce process.
You can also seek out resources yourself at the local library, or online.
Acting in your children's best interests despite the stress and emotion
of divorce will help your kids and demonstrate to Washington courts that
you may be the parent best able to do so after the divorce is finalized.
Should I modify my parenting style?
If you have not taken an active parenting role before, you may want to
do so now. This is especially true if you want the Washington divorce
court to award you substantial parenting time. Learn more about your children's
daily routines and develop relationships with their caregivers and teachers.
This will help you during the dissolution process if custody is disputed
and the judge needs information regarding your parenting abilities. It
will also prepare you to engage with your children as a single parent.
Again, there are numerous guidebooks about single parenting. Your children
will need added reassurance and more attention as the uncertainty of divorce
can be stressful for them. Reassuring them that you will continue to be
a significant presence in their life will be beneficial for you and your kids.
Consider Whether, When, and What to Tell Your Spouse
Do I have to tell my spouse that I am planning to file for divorce?
No. Technically, you can wait until your spouse is served with divorce
papers and have the papers do the telling. However, in most cases (excluding
those involving abuse) it is best to give your spouse some warning that
you are planning to file. Although your behavior towards your spouse isn't
strictly relevant to the Washington court's divorce decisions, it
could affect how your spouse responds. It could make your spouse less
amenable to mediation, arbitration and other negotiation of your divorce
issues. It could also impact how a judge views your character if your
case ends up in court. The Washington family court judge may hear the
details of your surprise filing and service and feel that you have a poor
character or have acted unfairly. This may affect the court's rulings
in matters such as spousal support, where the judge may consider "any
factors the court deems just and equitable."
When is the right time to tell my spouse?
It is best to tell your husband or wife you want a divorce after you have
protected and prepared yourself by interviewing and hiring a Washington
divorce attorney, organizing your financial and other information, and
planned how you will live once you are separated from your spouse.
When you do tell your spouse that you plan to divorce, there are some common
mistakes that should be avoided:
- Tell your spouse before he or she hears it from someone else. This can
help you avoid an unexpected confrontation and unnecessary embarrassment.
- Only tell your spouse after you are sure you want a divorce. If you want
to discuss the future of your marriage, but you are uncertain you want
a divorce, don't use the word divorce. The word alone could trigger
actions or legal moves by your spouse that you may not be prepared for.
- Do not threaten to use your children against your spouse. Threatening to
take your children or turn them against your spouse could negatively affect
your legal position should your case go before a Washington court.
- Do not discuss who is to blame, or start an argument. Make this a conversation
that alerts your spouse to your intention to file or serve them only.
There will be time later to discuss parenting, property division, etc.
Allow time for both of you to process the reality of your situation before
engaging in an argument that could lead to unnecessary, time-consuming,
and expensive litigation.
- Keep the conversation on topic, and don't say anything that later can
be held against you. For example, don't say anything negative about
your own or your spouse's parenting and don't offer to give your
spouse anything or promise any future property/debt awards/divisions.
Instead, tell them you are planning to or have already filed, and leave
it at that.
- Avoid treating your spouse with disrespect. At this early stage, you cannot
expect cooperation or understanding. Treating your spouse respectfully
now can set a more cooperative tone for what is to come.
Consider When and What to Tell Your Children About Divorce
When is the best time to tell my kids?
Your children should not be told until you know for sure that you will
divorce. Be sure to tell them when your spouse already knows, and when
you can tell the children calmly. Your children should hear this information
from you and/or your spouse. As you tell your children, think about both
your instinctive caring for your children, and your ability to show the
Washington divorce court that you consistently act with your children's
best interests in mind. Acting in your children's "best interests"
includes facilitating and encouraging your children to have positive relationships
with your spouse, regardless of the quality of the feelings you have for
What should I say to my children about divorce?
Experts (and your mandatory Washington pre-divorce parenting class) will
likely tell you the following information about your children and divorce:
- Begin the conversation with a plan of what you will say. Bring notes if
- If possible, you and your spouse should tell your children together. This
shows your children that you are united in caring for them and that they
do not have to take sides.
- Make it clear that the divorce is only between the adults and that nobody
is divorcing the children.
- It is unlikely that it will be in your children's best interest to
learn the reasons for the divorce. It is best simply to defer the question
and say that it is an adult issue, or to say that "mommy and daddy
couldn't live together anymore." This gives your children "permission"
to continue loving both of you instead of taking sides against the parent
that presumably caused the divorce.
- Do not say bad things about your spouse. Remember that no matter what happens
in your marriage, your spouse is your child's parent and disrespecting
your spouse is disrespecting someone very important to your children.
- Tell your children that divorce makes you a little sad, but do not explain
all of your emotions, fears and anxieties. Your children should not be
put into a role of caretaker as that is age inappropriate and not in their
- Be honest with your children and make them aware that some things in their
lives will change after the divorce, such as where both parents live,
their home part of the time, and perhaps their school. If you already
know specific changes that will occur, tell them. Then tell them all the
things that will not change after divorce, such as parental love, siblings,
friends, and pets. Children benefit by hearing concrete details and being
reassured of family consistency.
- Be prepared to say the same things again and again with patience and compassion.
Children, especially young ones, will ask many follow-up questions and
need answers repeated. This is part of how they process the information.
Be as receptive and reassuring as possible.
- Be prepared for and tolerant of your children's response to this news
including possible emotional outbursts, behavioral changes, and confused
loyalties as they process their emotions.
- Consider telling your children's caretakers and teachers, even before
the divorce is filed. This can be done simply: "My spouse and I will
be ending our marriage. Please contact me if you observe my child having
any behavioral or emotional issues that may be related to this."
Be careful in these communications to focus on your children's welfare
rather than seeking to gain sympathy or loyalty from your children's
teachers and caretakers.
Manage Your Stress
Divorce is stressful. Self-care is important for wise management of your
Washington divorce case. No matter how overwhelmed and sad you may feel,
take care of your greatest resource: yourself.
Excessive stress can cause you to be disorganized or forgetful of facts
that your Washington divorce attorney needs to be aware of. Stress may
cause you to act out toward your spouse, or be disrespectful regarding
your spouse in your children's presence. Excessive stress may cause
you to appear agitated, angry or despondent before a custody evaluator
or Washington family court. This may impact their recommendations or decisions
regarding parenting. Do not let your stress level jeopardize your children's
welfare, your case, and your future.
If you find yourself unable to manage your stress level, speak with your
doctor about your stress. Also try to practice self-care by getting adequate
sleep, following a proper diet, getting exercise, and, if necessary, taking
medication. It may be beneficial to find a divorce recovery class or group,
or speak with a divorce counselor. Be cautious about overusing alcohol
or beginning new romantic relationships at this time. Seek healthy escapes
from your stress. Focus on supporting your children, and being the best
parent you can be. If you have concerns about your stress level impacting
your case, your parenting, or your life, advise your Washington attorney
of these concerns.
Go to Part 3 - The Divorce Process