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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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Hello, I have 2 children- son, near 11 years old and daughter,

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I have 2 children- son, near 11 years old and daughter, near 10 years. My wife and I are going through a highly contentious divorce in California, at her choosing. I am very close with the kids and they with me. My son is gifted intellectually and loves information. My daughter is gifted in the arts- completely opposite of my son.

My question pertains to this- how do I tell the children that I am moving out of state? You see, I survived a near fatal TBI 4 years ago and still in rehab. I am on long term disability. My ex is using that against me to say I can't be responsible parent in court. I am very high functioning and my Physiatrist testified that I can be a 100% custodial parent, I just can't work. My huge deficit is damage to thalamus and thus, I don't handle stress well. Divorce court has destroyed my health- physically, emotionally, etc. Thus, I need to get away from it all and have out of state visitation with the kids.

The kids are longing to see me regularly, however, their Mom will only consent to "every other w/e visitation" and thus, I would be in 1 year of litigation to get custody orders. Additionally, being on a fixed disability income, I can not afford to live in So California with what I have to pay in custody, alimony, etc.

How do I tell the kids the truth, without putting their Mom under the bus? I need to tell them I can't handle court/litigation due to the TBI (they know all about my TBI as they were there when it happened)? How do I tell them I love them, but simply can not afford to live near them and have adequate housing on my limited income? How do I tell them that their Mom fought for them to stay in private school and won, so that add's $1,000/month I have to pay in support and is the major determinant in me needing to move?

Thank you, Darren

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.


The best thing you can do for your children is to tell them the truth. You do not have to tell them that their mother is bad in order to do it.


Your kids are old enough to understand that some things are out of your control. Make it clear to them that you are fighting very hard to see them as often as possible. This lets them know you care for them and love them, but circumstances beyond your control have caused you to only be able to see them as often as the courts allow. Tell them that courts often work the best they can, but that the decisions are not always what each parent wants.


Also, tell them that with your physical disability, you need to get help outside the state. Let them know you still want to have contact as much as possible. If you are allowed to call them, let them know you will be contacting them on a regular basis to see how they are. And encourage them to call you as often as they want to. If you can, consider Skypeing each other. That way, you can share and see each other. You can talk about homework, activities and just enjoy talking face to face.


You can also send gifts. Kids like getting things in the mail so if you sent them packages, they will feel closer to you. You do not need to send expensive items. Simple things like stuffed animals they like or a computer game is nice. Anything that you know they like.


Let your kids ask questions. Keep the lines of communication open as possible. If they ask about your ex, keep your answers neutral. "Mom and I could not agree on that", or "We tried to find the best solution for everyone but sometimes it doesn't work that way" and the most important answer, "Mom and I both love you very much and that will never change". These types of answers help give the kids answers but also keep your feelings about your divorce from making them feel burdened or responsible.


Make sure the kids know that they are not responsible for anything that is going on. They need to know that sometimes adults can't get along and need to be apart.


As your children get older, they will understand more and more about the situation. Kids are smart (it sounds like your children especially!) so they know more than they let on. And as long as you stay in touch and reaffirm your love and concern for their well being, they will seek you out and want to maintain a relationship.


I hope this helps you,

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thank you! You gave me a lot of clarity and great ideas for going forward.

I left out one thing I need your advice on- I already moved (they were gone end of summer with their Mom on vacation and I got the private school news while they were gone, so I packed up and moved). I am going to fly back and see them monthly and working out visitation schedule now through attorney). I have been under so much stress that I could not sleep, was not digesting foods, etc. Should I tell them by phone or in person?

To give a little more context, on August 23, we had a "voluntary settlement conference." On Aug. 22nd, I called the kids and asked them what they wanted. They wanted what would equal about 50/50 custody with me and their Mom. I was thrilled. Provided I did not have to pay for private school, I was going to rent or buy a 3 bed townhome so they could each have their own rooms. They were so excited. But, I did tell them that things were up to me and Mom working things out and the Judge.

So, my other question is this- I know my kids. If I tell them the truth about I can't afford to live there, they will ask why. I will tell them because I pay Mom $5,800/month for them and her alimony. Private school adds another $1,200/month which brings my income down to $4,000/month. I know the kids- they will say, "Dad, we will go to public school so you can live here." The problem with that question is that their Mom will not consent to public school, as she is very right wing, southern baptist. So, all I can tell them is that I told Mom and the Judge that I could not afford to live there if I had to pay for school and the Judge ordered for them to go to private school. Is that how I should respond?

Thanks, Darren

You're welcome.


It is still a good idea to be honest with the kids and let them know the terms of your agreement. It helps them understand why you are making the choices that you are. You can still be neutral in your explanation by telling the kids that private school was the best option that everyone involved could come up with. They may express that they will go to public school instead but you can explain that private school allows them to have better opportunities when they are older. Try to accentuate the positives for them. Then let them know you will continue to make the best efforts to be with them as often as possible. As long as you reassure them that you love them no matter what, they will adjust.



Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks Kate! Last question- should I wait and tell them in person in 3 weeks or over the phone in the next few days, then start the Skype, mail, etc? Darren



I would tell them in person,even if you have to wait. That way, you can convey your emotions better to them. They will be able to read your face and gestures and feel a deeper meaning in what you say to them. This is important, so you need to be face to face so they can ask questions. And if they get upset, you can comfort them.



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