My husband is having an affair. I hired a private detective, and the detective caught him checking into a hotel. I confronted my husband and he has agreed to move out. I am a mother of two children ages 8 and 10. What do I tell them, which is the most brutal part of this whole situation? I fear what this will do to our kids. How do I tell them? I am angry, but I don’t want to hurt my children.
Carolyn Answers …
Over the years of being a family law specialist, I have developed Carolyn’s 10 Rules in what to tell children when mom and dad are getting a divorce. These are the rules for 8 to 12-year-olds. The rules vary some for children under 8 and for teens.
1) Talk to the children together with your husband, if this is at all possible. You might seek a joint counseling session to discuss what to tell the children and how to do it.
2) When to tell them depends on the developmental age of the children. Generally, if they are between 8 and 12, tell them ahead of time, but not so much ahead that they worry. Children this age need some time for planning and adjustment.
3) Tell them that the divorce is not their fault.
4) Keep the reasons for the divorce simple, such as “mom and dad are not getting along.” Frankly, in most cases, the children have already observed this for themselves.
5) Do not discuss the affair with the children. This is an adult topic, and even if you have the philosophy of being truthful with the children, this is an adult truth not to be shared with minors.
6) Tell the children that you love them and that both parents will continue to love them.
7) Tell the children the tentative schedule for parenting. This is where the children need details, if at all possible. The children need to know what in their lives is changing.
8) Tell them that their personal property will be able to move freely between mom’s house and dad’s house.
9) Take time to listen to the children and answer their questions.
10) Tell them that their friends and activities will not change.
Children who are babies and toddlers are dependent on caregivers and do not have the ability to understand complex events. Preschoolers will quickly jump to the conclusion that the parent moving out is leaving the child. Keep discussions with preschoolers short and very concrete, emphasizing they will be cared for and that no parent is abandoning them. With early school age children, you have to assess their emotional maturity; these children can have deep feelings about divorce without much verbal ability to express them. Teens may need a lot of discussion about the topic and can exhibit anger or withdrawal.
It is important to note what your children were like before the divorce discussion and after the divorce discussion. Pay attention and deal with changed behaviors, feelings and conduct.
I am a father having tremendous difficulty in seeing my son, who is now a teen. I live in New York but I was down here for a custody hearing and picked up a copy of Rhino Times and saw your column. The court appointed a parenting coordinator and has ordered reunification therapy. I thought I’d ask you to explain what a parenting coordinator is and what reunification therapy is. Thanks for any insight you can share with me.
Carolyn Answers …
I am sorry for the parental alienation problems you are facing. With a teen, parental alienation can be extremely difficult to deal with, particularly if the alienation has been going on for a while.
A judge can appoint a parenting coordinator in a high conflict case, such as yours. A parenting coordinator has limited authority established by the court order appointing the coordinator. The primary purposes of a parenting coordinator per NC General Statutes Section 50-92 are as follows: Identify disputed issues, reduce misunderstandings, clarify priorities, explore possibilities for compromise, develop methods of collaboration in parenting and comply with the court’s order of custody, visitation or guardianship.
There is a new case that is helpful on the topics of both parenting coordinators and reunification therapy: Tankala v. Pithavadian. In Tankala, the court put a psychologist in charge of reunification therapy. The mother, Shakunthala Pithavadian, moved from New York to North Carolina. The father, Harsha Tankala, is from Delaware. The parties were married five years and had one son, “Peter.” Peter was 16 at the time of the hearing and had no appreciation for the need for a relationship with his father. Given the age of the juvenile, the Court of Appeals was quick to point out that time was running out with this juvenile and the process was so slow it failed him.
In Tankala, the Wake County family court appointed a psychologist as a reunification therapist. The therapist required that the parties and Peter attend a four-day reunification camp because all other efforts were failing. The mother and Peter did not go to the camp and the mother argued the losing argument to the Court of Appeals that reunification camp should be stayed and, for technical reasons, should not happen. The mother lost both the trial and the appeal.
Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.