Expert advice Kevin Costner ignored before telling kids about divorce on Zoom

Parenting experts may debate whether Kevin Costner’s estranged wife Christine Baumgartner really needs $250,000 a month in child support to keep their three teenagers “in their accustomed lifestyle.”

But judging from parenting advice that numerous experts make available online, they probably would agree that Baumgartner has a point in saying that the “Yellowstone” star didn’t act in their children’s best interest when he took it upon himself to break the news on his own that he and their mother were divorcing in a brief Zoom call from his Las Vegas hotel.

In a court filing obtained by People, Baumgartner, 49, said Costner, 68, told their kids Grace, 13, Hayes, 14, and Cayden, 16, about their divorce during a Zoom call that lasted about 10 minutes. He had apparently been in Las Vegas working, and Baumgartner said she wanted to wait until he returned to their home in Santa Barbara.

“The children’s welfare has always been my highest priority, and I was concerned they would find out about the divorce before Kevin and I could tell them. It was important for me that we tell the children in person and together,” Baumgartner said in the documents.

While concerned that the children would hear about the pending divorce from an outside source, Baumgartner said she researched the best way to break the news, People reported. She said she found “several articles about the importance of talking to the children as a united front” and believed that she and her husband of 18 years would do it together.

But Costner had other ideas. He “disregarded my proposal to do what I felt was right based on research and my relationship with the children,” Baumgartner said, according to People. “Instead, he insisted that he had the right to tell them that we were getting divorced ‘first’ and tell them privately ‘without me present.’”

“I am still confused by his motivation to do this via a very short Zoom session, especially since he was planning on being home five days later,” Baumgartner said. “He also could have easily come home from Las Vegas to have the conversation in person.”

Baumgartner’s complaints about her estranged husband’s Zoom call come as her split from the Oscar winner grows increasingly contentious. Ever since she filed for divorce on May 1, reportedly “blindsiding” Costner, lawyers have been going back in forth over the movie star’s demands that Baumgartner leave the family’s beachside compound near Santa Barbara, lest he be left “homeless”; Baumgartner’s legal effort to stay put in the family home; and her new request for $248,000 a month in child support.

When it comes to breaking the divorce news to the children, Baumgartner said she had found research online that bolstered the idea that she and Costner should try to put aside their differences and talk to the children together. Indeed, it’s fairly easy to find articles that urge parents to put “on a united front” to “calmly share news of divorce.”

For example, psychologist Jamie Howard said in an article by the Child Mind Institute, an independent nonprofit with offices in San Mateo and New York City, that learning about divorce is “a flashbulb memory” for children.

“It’s one of those moments kids will probably always remember,” said Howard, a psychologist at the institute. Howard explained that’s why “you want to get it right, which means taking some time to plan out what you want to say, and how you want to say it.”

“This is a time when kids need to be reassured, and the best way to do that is to show your children that you are both still on the same team when it comes to parenting,” Howard said. “You want to model ‘We’ve got this.’ Even if it’s not true, or even if only one parent has got this.”

“One of the most intense conversations you will ever face is talking to your children about divorce,” said psychologist Briony Leo in a column for Motherly.  “This is a big conversation. … Protecting your children from experiencing any pain is impossible, but there are ways to break the news that will help them feel less overwhelmed and anxious throughout this transitional period.”

In a column for Psychology Today, pscyhologist Ann Gold Buscho, agreed that parents should talk to their children together, even though “it might be hard.” It’s also important for parents to pick a time that allows opportunity “for some family time” before and after breaking the news.

“Don’t do it on a holiday or other special day, or just before school or bedtime,” Buscho said. “If it’s extremely difficult for you to speak with your spouse, or you can’t agree on how you will do it, consider using the services of a mediator, divorce coach, or counselor to help you work out the details. Don’t blurt it out impulsively in an emotional moment.”

Buscho and other experts also say it’s important to tailor the conversation to the children’s ages, avoid the temptation to assign blame and refrain from drawing children into picking sides over whose “fault” it is. To some extent, parents need to offer a reason for why they are divorcing but without delving into personal details. Parents can offer a general explanation, Buscho said, such as, “We hoped this would never happen but we can’t seem to fix our relationship” or  “We like each other and want to be friends, but we don’t love each other anymore.”

Given Baumgartner’s description of the Zoom call Costner had with their children, it’s easy to imagine that he blurted out the news, perhaps in anger over his wife filing for divorce or in an effort to control his side of the narrative. It also doesn’t sound like he considered the need for “family time” — that the children might need time to digest the news before returning to ask more questions.

Buscho and Leo said children will want to know how the divorce will impact them, including whether they will have to leave their family home or go to a new school. They also will want to know which parent is moving out. “Explain your new living arrangements to them, including how often they’ll see your former spouse,” Leo said. “But let them know that their lives won’t change much besides that. If applicable, tell them they’ll still go to the same school, have the same friends, and be able to see you and your former spouse.”

Given that Costner and Baumgartner are battling over who gets to occupy the family home, it sounds like their children have been left with some uncertainty.

Costner is pushing for Baumgartner to leave the family home in Carpinteria, a $145 million beachside compound, saying that the property is in his name. Costner — whose income was $19 million in 2022, according to court records cited by People — has argued that she should honor the terms of their prenuptial agreement. Signed before their 2004 marriage, the agreement states that she has 30 days to pack up her belongings and vacate it in the event of a divorce.

Costner said he expects they will share custody and their teenagers will spend half their time in his home and the other half at their mother’s new house. With this arrangement, he doesn’t expect that their lives will be disrupted. He also described himself as a very “hands-on” father who drives his children to school and is involved in their daily lives.

But Baumgartner’s friends have portrayed her as the primary caregiver because Costner is often away for months at a time, working on films or TV series. They said she’s trying to stay put in the house to provide “some sort of normalcy for the kids,” according to the Daily Mail.

“Christine said she’s being made out to be some gold digger, but for her this isn’t about money,” one friend told the Daily Mail. “If anyone should find a new house, it should be Kevin. Christine is not about to budge, so Kevin should just give in and move on.”

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