Often parents ask, or perhaps wonder silently, is there is a best time to divorce? Should we wait to divorce until the youngest child leaves for college? Or, maybe, they wonder if the optimal time is when the children have graduated from college? Yet what if they come home after school, do we then wait until they have secured employment or moved out of the house? The list of questions is endless; you can take the same sentence of “ when is the best time to divorce” and finish it with any and all age groups, ranging from the very young (infants) to financially independent adult children.
Actually there is no scientific answer to this question. Every child, at every development age, is unique. There is no one or even a few predictable reactions from similarly aged children. To further complicate the search for answers is the realization that each family constellation is also different. Children do not live in isolation. Some homes are happy safe havens for children, even if the parents are not satisfied with their marriage. In other homes there is tension between the parents that spills over affecting the day-to-day functioning of the family unit.
The answer to the question is that there is no one universal response to help parents in their quest for an optimal time to divorce. And perhaps, after all, couples should decide how and when to divorce based on many variables, only one of which is tying their decision to their children’s ages. However, here are some observations that may be somewhat helpful.
Young children will not remember how life was before their parents divorced. Parents have an opportunity to create a “new scenario” for their children, replete with new traditions and memories.
School age children will need reassurance that there will be consistency in their lives, that “yes” there will be Christmas celebrations, birthday parties, and that their parents will still be there for them. In the “good” divorce, parents’ fashion ways to work collaboratively and cooperatively in caring for their children, that despite the child’s fear of abandonment having two homes only means that they still have two parents.
Teenage children are a challenge for all parents—married or divorced. Parents need to recognize the many demands on their teenagers and the need to help them maintain and develop interpersonal connections, to protect them from the enticing glamour and the inherent dangers of social media, and to work together as a parenting team to recognize signs of distress and to act as a unit in helping and advocating for their children.
Young adult children are surprisingly the age group that often poses the greatest challenge for divorcing parents. Parents who divorce at the time the child leaves for college may find that their offspring feel especially abandoned and think, in effect, that they do not have a home to which to return. Special care to involve the children in the selection of parents’ housing and the children’s place in each home is critical. Some times finding new housing before they leave or after their freshman year at school eases the impact of the divorce.
It is important to remember that children, who are leaving for college or graduating from school or embarking on a career, are often focused on their own worries and personal fears—will they find friends? Will they have trouble with the course work? Will they like their chosen career? Or how can they find a job that they will like? The listing of concerns goes on and on. They do not want to worry about their mother or father or both. After all, it is the parents’ job, they assume, to worry about them. Making a child a partner in the divorce action or being in need of personal support from a child, may be asking too much. Certainly parents need to be concerned about the impact of divorce on their children.
Certainly parents need to pay attention to details involving post divorce living and parenting. The key secret to the “good divorce” is to be remain a couple, as parents, regardless of whether you live in different houses, have different partners, or structure new paths in life. Mediation provides the collaborative atmosphere to ponder post divorce parenting and to examine ways in which you, as a parenting couple, can help your children, regardless of their age, to adjust to the divorce and to flourish.