Divorce: Supporting Older Teens

My spouse and I are planning to separate and eventually divorce and we need to tell our older teens. The separation planning has been painful but mostly amicable (so far). Co-parenting well is our North Star. We plan to tell the kids together early this summer, so they have time to process before going back to school. It will be a big shock for them. Any advice on how to help them through the initial months, first year or two? Also we are thinking about keeping the house in joint custody for a year or so after divorce to allow housing stability for the kids. We understand the tax/financial implications of this, so mostly would love to hear stories of what helped your teens emotionally and what didn’t. Thanks so much! 

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I applaud you for trying to do divorce well! An amicable divorce where both parties can remain civil afterward is the gold standard. My parents divorced when I was 20, and it was very acrimonious. It's been almost 40 years, and my mother's bitterness and refusal to get along after my dad remarried still affects us kids as adults. I know families where exes are included in family gatherings and everyone gets along. This makes it easier on everyone. Both of you being there for your kids and not taking sides will go a long way in helping your teens adjust. Stay positive as much as you can! 


I applaud you for being so thoughtful about your older teens as you enter into the divorce process. My former spouse and I began our divorce process when our children were 18 and 20. The younger was in their senior year of high school. The divorce process took 15 months.

Our intention was for an amicable divorce and to maintain some semblance of family. We chose to use a collaborative divorce process. This is different than mediation. The team includes a divorce coach (a licensed mental health professional that provides divorce coaching, not therapy) which I felt was essential for my process for two reasons: 1. While I believed my former spouse intended to be amicable and fair, I did not trust that they could be, 2. I wanted to include provisions for supporting our children even though they were over 18. Mediated or court divorces do not include provisions for children over 18. For some collaboratively divorcing couples, each has their own divorce coach. My former spouse and I used on neutral coach who we both liked.The coach was very helpful in working through the older teen / young adult issues, including when and how to tell them about the divorce and how to address the family home.

My divorce was finalized a little over a year ago. I wish I could say it all went swimmingly, and we're all happy and connected. I am thriving. Unfortunately, my former spouse is not. They will barely speak to me and their behavior toward our children is confusing and hurtful. Despite this, the children are doing well, and my relationship with each of them is better than ever. Here's what helps my young adults: they see me taking care of myself and moving intentionally into the next phase of my life. I work hard to be open and authentic with them, and parent them appropriately as emerging adults. When they want to talk about their father, I listen and validate their emotions and experience. I do not speak ill of him, and I don't make excuses for him either. I see my role as providing a safe, stable landing place for them. I now own and live in the family home. I hope, in time, their father is able to be more amicable and a supportive and appropriate co-parent, and I have to work with what I have now.

My former spouse's lawyer recommended the book: Home Will Never Be The Same Again. I found it helpful.

I wish you the support of a loving circle of family, friends, and professionals as you go through your separation and divorce process. Life can be good on the other side.