How to have conversations about the children when you divorce

The number one trigger point when talking with your soon-to-ex-husband, in my experience, is children. Yes, even more than money – though of course the two issues are often bound together. In How to have conversations about the children when you divorce, we look at strategies for making this easier

Conversations about your children are hard. Yet they are absolutely critical to ensure you and your soon-to-be-ex-husband put your children first as you divorce.

Here’s how to create conversations that are as productive as possible.

Are you ready to talk?

Having a conversation about arrangements when emotions are high is a recipe for disaster! Aim to find a time when you can both be cool-headed. Plan to talk solely about the children, without money, past rights or wrongs or any other issues creeping in.

Plan to get the most out of discussions

Put some groundwork in to help your conversation move things forward, rather than get dragged into point-scoring or other emotive issues. Your aim should be to create a plan that works for your children first and foremost.

Agree on a neutral venue, such as a café. Ahead of your meeting, agree some ground rules with each other and be clear about them. You could use these as a starting point:

  • Set boundaries around what’s up for discussion – the conversation is about the children, nothing else
  • Listen to each other without interrupting
  • Respect each other’s perspective, even if you disagree
  • Move on if you can’t agree
  • End the meeting if it starts to deteriorate
  • Agree in advance for one of you to write up notes of the meeting and share with the other

Before you meet, think about what’s important to you and how you can share that. Know what you want to get across and think about how you can say it clearly.

Keep conversation child-focussed

When you meet, see if you can find common ground or points you can agree on. Ask your soon-to-be-ex-husband to share their perspective in their own words, don’t assume you know what they want or think.

Remember that your discussion is about your children’s best interests – you may need to be flexible and compromise on your ideal position. Keep dialogue open rather than shut conversations down if they don’t go as you expect. Check back to your ground rules and remind yourselves of these if needed.

Get help when needed

If your discussions get you nowhere, it’s time to call in support. A trained mediator can make all the difference in helping you and the father of your children to understand each other and find a way forward. A mediator will help you hear each other’s point of view and state your own position without discussions getting overheated.

If mediation doesn’t work, you will need to apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order. The courts see these as a last resort, and prefer parents to come to agreements themselves. However, if you have exhausted all other options, a court will decide what’s in the best interests of your child(ren). A Child Arrangements Order will set out living, care and holiday arrangements and you will be legally obliged to abide by them.

What if you’re in a high conflict situation?

If your soon-to-be-ex-husband is narcissistic or shows other signs of having a high conflict personality, don’t open yourself up to manipulation or abuse. The same guidelines don’t apply – you don’t want to keep dialogue open and flexible.

Instead, follow the BIFF guidelines for communication – keep things:

Brief: don’t get dragged into wider conversation

Informative: stick to the facts

Friendly: don’t add heat to the situation

Firm: maintain clear boundaries.

You can read more about communication with a high conflict person  here.

When using tech is your friend

So often, technology gets in the way of our honest and open conversations. When we talk on the phone we can’t see the other person – something is always lost in translation. When we rely on messaging there is no sound and again, we can misinterpret and make incorrect assumptions.

In high conflict situations, tech can sometimes we manipulated to further abuse another. But increasingly, apps are being developed to support families in relationship breakdown. Our Family Wizard is one such app. OFW started off as an American programme, and in recent months it’s UK staff have been working hard to make it more UK ‘friendly’. It does work however (and yes, it still needs some tweaks). My clients are feeding back so that it becomes even easier for us to use here. 

So what does OFW do, and how does it work? Well, it’s both a smart phone and desk top App that allows you to run all your communication both text and email through it. So no direct messaging. This allows you to change your phone number if you want to – your children’s father can communicate with you through the app without a phone number for you.

Content cannot be removed or manipulated. Everything is time and date stamped including uploading, opening and reading. You can share files such as school reports and medicals. You can request swaps for time with the children. There’s the ability to upload child related expenses. 

Consider it if you’d like the distance between you and the father of your children. 

Do you need help ensuring the best future for your children as you divorce?

Book in a call and I can help you work through it all.

The Divorce Alchemist

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a practising family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit

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