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When parents split up

stress; separate; divorce; parents; separation; splitting up; family break-up; break up; feelings; marriage; de-facto; legal ;


About splitting up

divorceSometimes mum or dad, or both of them, decide that they would rather not live together any more.

They may choose to live apart for a while or they may choose to stay apart forever. If they are legally married they may choose to divorce. If they are in a 'de-facto' relationship they may have a legal separation. A 'de-facto' relationship is when two adults choose to live together without being married.

When parents end their relationship it is hurtful and confusing to everyone - parents, relatives, friends and especially to your sisters or brothers and you.

Parents are human and they are hurting too. So this could be a stressful time for all of you.

If your parents separate, you might feel:

  • sad - because of all the things you used to do that have to change. It can take a long time for you to stop feeling sad sometimes, even if you feel happy at other times. This is normal.
  • scared - because you don't know what is going to happen to them and you. Ask mum or dad or another adult what you need to know.
  • angry - with one or both of your parents for splitting up. It is hard for children to really understand what has happened - let your parents or another adult know how you are feeling.
  • guilty - as if it was somehow your fault. It isn't - but all parents argue about children sometimes, so children can feel as if they are to blame.
  • confused - about what is happening. Tell an adult how you are feeling.
  • lonely - because mum and dad seem to be too involved with their own problems to spend time with you. Ask another adult relative to help you if this is happening.
  • worried - about one or both of your parents, especially if one of them is alone. Even if a parent seems very sad or upset, it is best for you and your parents if you have faith that they will be able to sort it out in time. Do what will help you feel better.

What can you do?

* You can't do anything about their separation or divorce.This is an adult decision and no matter how good or how bad you are, you cannot get them back together again, just as you had nothing to do with their decision to split up.
* You can ask questions so that you are not worrying about what it will mean for you and your brothers or sisters.

Questions that kids often ask

Ask your parents if you are worried about things.
They can help you to sort out your worries and deal with them.

  • divorceWho will be responsible for me?
  • Where will I live?
  • Will I have to change schools?
  • Do I have to decide who to live with?
  • Can I have some say about where I live?
  • Will all the children stay together?
  • Will I see mum or dad? (Or will I have to?)
  • Will I be allowed to phone mum or dad when I want to? Or - can I choose not to?
  • What will I say to my friends?
  • Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong?
  • Do I have to 'take sides'?
  • Will I still see all of my relatives?
  • Will we be 'poor'?

Mum or dad may be too upset to answer all your questions at once, so try to be a bit patient if you can.

If mum or dad can't talk to you, talk about your feelings and worries with someone else you know and trust, like an auntie or uncle, a grandparent, a teacher or school counsellor.

Remember - your parents are the grown ups and they know best how to care for themselves. You can help them best by saying what is worrying you and what you need to help you feel better.

In Australia the Family Law Act is about making sure that any decisions that are made are in the best interest of the child - of you!

showing concernMaybe it is your friend whose parents are separating. Try to be a good listener and a good friend. Remember that good friends don't tell other people their friend's secrets (unless they really need to, because the friend is in trouble or something bad is happening to them). You may need to be very understanding if your friend is not her usual self. It can take a long time to feel better if your parents are splitting up.

Choose carefully who you talk to. Some kids feel better after talking to a school counsellor or social worker who is trained to talk with people about their problems. You can ask your teacher if you'd like to do this.

Look in the library for any books about divorce that were written for kids. They may help you to understand what is happening.

After the separation

family group - before and afterIt is normal for everyone involved in a separation to go through a time of grieving. Grieving is feeling sad because you have lost something - such as the way you used to live as a family.

Remember to Talk, Share, Remember and Live your life. (see the related topic Grieving - working through loss)

Your life will be different.

  • Maybe you will live with one parent and visit the other.
    single parent family
  • Maybe you will still have your own room in your old house and your own room in mum or dad's new house.
  • Maybe you will spend a week with one parent and a week with the other.
  • Maybe you will only see one parent very occasionally.
  • houseMaybe your old house will be sold and you will have a new house, or even two new houses.
  • Maybe you will live too far away to keep going to the same school.
  • Maybe you will only see one parent.
  • Maybe you will not see some of your relatives.

Sometimes one parent will feel very upset and will want to ask lots of questions about the other. If you start to feel like 'Superspy' then it's time to say how you are feeling. You can say that you don't want to carry messages or information between your parents.

Divorce happens in one out of three marriages, so you are not going to be the only kid in this situation. Others will understand how you feel.

What next?

marryingSome time in the future, one or both of your parents may find a new partner and decide to marry or live with a new partner again. You may even find yourself with a whole lot more 'brothers and sisters' as well as a new parent.  It probably won't be easy at first, but if you can talk about your feelings and worries and try to work out your problems with your parents and their new partners, then you could end up being a happy part of two families!

See the topics Family relationships - brothers and sisters and Stepfamilies if this is happening to you.

Some advice on how to help your friend

Here's some advice from other kids on how to help your friend.

  • "Say that it is okay to feel sad and it is not their fault", says Chris.
  • "Take them to the library and read a book with them about divorce".
  • "Listen to what your friend says and keep it a secret", says Thuc.
  • "Play with them like you always do and be kind", says Anna.
  • There are a lot of kids who would understand how this boy felt when he wrote,
    "When my mum and dad split up I felt bad. I was crying for a lot of days. We went to the airport and we got on a plane to come here. That was a long time ago now. I speak to dad on the phone sometimes, but I still wish we were all together".
  • Or this story:
    "Once, a year ago my parents were almost divorced but they could not decide which child would go with which parent. I was scared, I was very scared".
  • or
    "I live one week with mum and one week with dad. I get mixed up sometimes and can't remember where my stuff is". 
  • Mum and dad used to fight all the time. I still see dad but I live with mum. I used to be scared all the time. I'm not now. It is good to live in a home where there is no more fighting

Dr Kate says:

Dr Kate"When parents separate it is very upsetting for everyone. If you are worried, talk to someone who can help you.

Remember that your parents have divorced each other, they haven't divorced you. Parents are parents forever."



A young person sent us this message by using our Feedback button 

I just wanted to send in my story....  My dad died 9 months ago..I really miss him. My mom and dad broke up when I was really young. But I was still really close to him. Now my mom and step dad are getting a divorce. Right now is a really hard time.  Thank you for sharing your story, and your thoughts and feelings with us.

If you have sad, confused or angry feelings and worries, talk with your trusted adults, or in Australia you could call the Kid's Helpline 1800 55 1800 (free call). 

The Reachout website has a lot of information for young people going through tough times You could have a look at this topic 'Dealing with divorce and custody'.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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