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How to Talk to Children about the Financial Realities of Divorce

Updated: Jan 1, 2023

You want to give your children everything their hearts desire, but after a divorce, your financial situation is likely to face major strains. While you were married you were able to take your children on nice vacations each year, buy them designer label clothes, pay for personal music or sports lessons, and afford a special private school. These big expenses are no longer possible now that you’re living on a single salary. How can you explain the situation to your children and help them accept a life with less luxury?

Negotiate for Your Children During the Divorce

It may be possible for you to negotiate on behalf of your children during the divorce to help ensure that they are still able to enjoy the type of lifestyle to which they are accustomed. Though you and your ex may not see eye to eye on many things, you both probably want what’s best for your children. If he earns a high income, he may be willing to continue paying for private school, lessons, and other “nice-to-haves” for your children. If he pushes back, it may be worth taking him to court. Family court judges prioritize the well-being of children and are strongly inclined to rule in favor of maintaining their current lifestyle. Your divorce attorney can help you determine how best to negotiate on behalf of your children.

Talking to Younger Children

Younger children may not understand why mommy and daddy are living in two houses or why mom’s house is much smaller now. They don’t need a crash course on how hard it is to budget on a reduced income. Instead, just explain that mommy and daddy are going to be friends instead of husband and wife and that each of them now has to live with half the money as before. If your children are learning about addition and subtraction in school, they can understand that half as much money means that you won’t have as much to buy extra things.

Explain to your youngsters that even though you don’t have as much money, you still have the same amount of love. This could actually be a great opportunity to teach your children that loving each other and being together is much more valuable than the latest toys or eating out every week.

Talking to Older Children

Tweens and teens already understand what divorce is, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need reassurance too. We suggest having an honest, adult-like conversation with them to prepare them for what life will now be like. If you feel your children are mature enough, share your basic budget so they can see that your money is going to pay for important things like rent, your car payment, and groceries.

This will be a difficult conversation, but your children will appreciate your honesty. Explain that you will do your absolute best but that you’ll all have to sacrifice a little to get by. Again, this is a great opportunity to re-orient values away from “stuff” and toward family and togetherness. Tweens and teens may pretend to be mature or not to care what’s happening, but they need to know that you love them and that love hasn’t changed even if your circumstances have.

Invite questions and consider inviting older teens to help you budget. It’s never too early to learn good money habits!

At the end of the day, communication is key. Let your kids ask questions, complain, and negotiate so they feel like they have stake in the proceedings. Most importantly, end these difficult conversations with a reaffirmation of your love. It doesn’t matter if you had to move into a smaller apartment, if you will have to go back to work, or if you had to give up the nice, fancy car. Love is priceless, and children can thrive in all types of challenging environments.

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