How to talk to your kids about custody and living arrangements

Talking to your kids about living arrangements following a divorce is hard. They’re confused, scared, and might think your relationship trouble is their fault.

You only have one shot at getting that first talk about custody and living arrangements right.

We’ve seen hundreds of divorcing or separating couples successfully set aside their differences to help their children through the turbulence of this big life shift.

These tips can put you on track to being among the successful ones.

Don’t talk to them before you’re both on the same page

Even if you’re on poor terms, it’s important to work together for the sake of your children.

One way to maintain civility and reach a mutually positive plan is with the help of a mediator.

Mediation requires both spouses keep an open mind and be willing to make concessions for the overall quality of life for the kids.

It is the best way to minimize confusion and maintain fairness for the kids as well as yourselves.

When a clear plan is agreed on by both parents, you are ready to plan your talk with the kids.

Don’t get drawn into drama

This isn’t about telling your kids how the relationship went wrong, who hurt who, etc…


  • Blame
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Resentment
  • Negativity

Your tone and attitude during now play large roles in how your children respond to the discussion (and your new relationship).

Contain your conflict and work to minimize confusion and emphasize fairness to the kids.

Emphasize the positives

Talk to your kids first about the parts of their lives that won’t change.

Remind them their schedule with school, friends, and activities will stay the same.

Your love for them also won’t change. Your commitment to spending time with them won’t change.

You want to reassure them their life only changes in small ways, and they won’t lose anything in the process of sorting out this new life.

Tell them exactly how it’s going to work

When they’re at peace with things that won’t change, you can introduce them to thing that will.

The most important changes for your children are:

  • Where they will live.
  • When they will see each parent.

If your children are very young, bring in a calendar to show them what the arrangement looks like.

For little children, colour coded mom and dad days help them understand. Older kids will find comfort in the security of seeing their schedule on paper – a commitment more significant than just words.

Follow up with a reminder of the positives

For kids living with angry parents before a divorce, a reprieve from the fighting and anxiety in the house might be a positive outcome.

Both parents will be happier, nicer people to spend time with. Even if you think you shielded your kids from the trouble sin your marriage, chances are they picked up on it. They want you to be happy, even if it’s just so you’re more enjoyable to be around.

Let them ask questions

This may be the first time your children learn about your relationship problems. If so, it’s the first time they think about splitting their time between you two.

This is a significant life change, and you can’t expect your kids to understand it immediately.

Give your kids time to process the information, knowing they may go through various phases of anger, resentment, sadness, or trying to find ways to get you back together with your ex.

Keep an open dialogue over the months ahead – maybe even years.

The point is to make your kids feel heard, and to understand their emotions so you can help channel them in a positive direction.

The more they understand what’s happening, the more they can see you and your ex want to maintain good, fair relationships with them. It will help them adjust well in their new life.

If you want help forming the foundation of your new custody and living arrangement, our team of mediators can help. For us, it’s all about creating a fair, positive environment for your kids, yourself and your ex going forward.

Your new life is going to be better than you imagined, and we want to help get you there. Contact us today