What Teachers and Schools and Community Resources Can Do
Schools and courts can have counseling groups available for the children. Starting as young as third grade,
some children can benefit from divorce groups composed of a therapist and peers. The first message, whether
they are in a group or not, should be: they are not alone.
Being in a group communicates very powerfully the idea that they are not alone. Children during elementary
school feel that divorce is a plague that has descended upon them alone. When children realize that about half
of all children experience the breakup of a family, they understand that they are not alone and they are not
Groups are a good setting to explain many of the terms involved in divorce. During one of the sessions with
the group, we play a basket game. Children pass a basket pulling a slip of paper that has terms about divorce
such as “alimony” and “custody.” Children have heard these terms, but their understanding of the terms and
process of divorce are far from accurate. Children are often afraid to ask parents about divorce and parents
frequently don’t want to discuss divorce. This lack of communication and information leaves many blanks that
children fill in incorrectly.
By explaining the divorce process, children gain information. Information leads to knowledge and knowledge
is power. Children begin to feel more in control of their lives. As we feel more in control, we are more likely to
see our depression lift.
Don’t wait for a group to explain divorce to your children. You can do that. There are books written for
children that can help.
One of the biggest fears children of all ages have concerns court. They are afraid that they will have to go to
court and in a very public setting have to answer embarrassing questions and choose between parents.
Children fear if they pick one parent, the other parent will be angry at them. This fear cannot be overstated.
However, in most cases, children never go to court and never choose publicly which parent they want to live
I reassure children that they do not have to choose. They can say that they like both parents and will let the
court decide. Hawaii, like many states, does not bring the children into the courtroom. Finding out that they do
not have to go to court is a tremendous relief to children. I explain that a social worker from the court will visit
them at both their mother’s and their dad’s house. The social worker will talk with them in private and may ask
them whom they would prefer to live with.
Even when they understand that they may have input privately, often they still are terrified to alienate the
parent not chosen. They become visibly relieved to be informed that they do not have to make the decision.
The social worker will make a recommendation to the judge and the judge decides. Children are surprised that
they do not decide whom they will live with; the judge decides.
I do not like the legal term visitation. It implies that one parent is now a visitor in the child’s life. Visitation
sounds like something an alien from space does. I reframe the situation as the child will be living with both
parents separately. They may live with one parent more of the time, but will be living with the other parent on
certain weekends or days.