Supporting Your Child During Divorce or Separation
If you're worried about how your relationship break-up might affect your child, here is our advice and information on where you can get help.
How can I help my child?
Every child and young person’s experience with the loss of their known family unit will be unique, but it can sometimes cause intense emotional distress. In the immediacy of a break up, children’s early response can involve a number of defense behaviours, including: denial, disbelief, dissociation, hyperactivity, irritability and protest, alarm and panic. Over time, children may experience grief and display behaviours and emotions that indicate yearning and pining, sadness and depression, anger and hostility, anxiety, guilt, shame and despair. Even if children feel relieved at a family break up where violence is a significant factor, most children will still feel some loss and grief. There are things you can do to improve the way your child copes with the changes going on around them.
These are things that may really make a difference:
- Place the feelings and needs of your child above adult feelings and considerations.
- Work hard to ensure that children have good relationships and easy contact with both parents.
- Children can adjust to loss when they can rely on stability, being given honest information, encouraged to ask questions, participating in family discussions and turning to a trusted adult for comfort.
- Decide when and how to talk to the children, with both parents together as the ideal. Make sure you give an age-appropriate and if possible, a straightforward explanation for the family break up.
- Try to shield children from overt conflict between parents - this can be frightening and make them anxious.
- Listen to your child's concerns, accept their emotions and express your sorrow and understanding for their feelings of loss and grief.
- Look at it through their eyes – they don’t want their parents to divorce, they don’t want their parents to be unhappy, they will wonder what they’ve done wrong, they will be scared that the other parent might leave them too, they will miss the absent parent, they will want to talk about them too.
- Provide strong and constant reassurance – “It’s ok to cry”; “It’s not your fault”. Explain that are not responsible for what happens in an adult relationship.
- When faced with anger and bad behaviour, provide love, understanding and good discipline. Create opportunities to discuss their feelings and actions, define what is acceptable and what is not and work together on finding alternative and appropriate ways of dealing with angry feelings.
- Don’t ask your child to take sides, act as confidantes or be a go-between.
- Allow them to continue their lives and to develop and maintain their relationship with each parent.
- Fathers are the main or sole parent/carer in only 10% of families. In cases of separation/divorce, 7 out of 10 fathers have a strong presence in their children’s lives. Children who fare best after divorce are those who see their fathers most often; it usually reflects a relatively harmonious relationship between parents.
- Maintain predictable and reliable arrangements, stick to familiar routines and activities, and minimise change.
- Keep up usual and familiar relationships with grandparents, other close family and friends.
- Find good support for yourself. Seek professional advice if you or your child is still not coping after a while.
Parental Alienation and Emotional Abuse
A parent who turns their child against their other parent by bad-mouthing, belittling the other adult, limiting contact between them, forbidding discussion about them, creating the impression the parent does not love the child and forcing the child to reject the parent is becoming increasingly common and can do significant damage to children’s mental health.
The Chief Executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), Anthony Douglas, recommended in February 2017 that parents who use this type of ‘alienation’ should be considered guilty of neglect or emotional abuse.
Where can I get help?
- Support for single parents in England and Wales including advice and information on child support, benefits, tax credits and your child’s contact with their other parent.
- Freephone single parent helpline: 0808 802 0925 (Mon 10:00-18:00, Tues, Thurs & Fri 10:00-16:00, Wed: 10:00-13:00 and 17:00-19:00).
- If you live in NI and would like information about benefits or tax credits call the helpline on 0808 802 0020.
- Support for single parents in Scotland
- Lone Parent Helpline: 0808 801 0323 (Mon-Thu 09:30-16:00)
- Find out how to end a relationship and sort out things like children, money and your home.
Child Law Advice (at Coram Children's Legal Centre)
- Provides free legal advice and information on all aspects of English law and policy affecting children, families, carers and professionals.
- For family or child law advice call 0300 330 5480
- For education law advice call 0300 330 5485
- Help and support for separating parents – government website with links to useful info and organisations about child support, benefits, housing, domestic violence, and more.
- Helpline: 0800 988 0988 (Mon- Fri 08:00 – 20:00 & Sat 09:00-16:00)
- Support and guidance to help make the difficult transition of divorce and separation easier for families and understanding how to deal with children’s emotions and behaviours.
- Website that provides information, advice, and support regarding the problems of maintaining a child's relationship with both parents during and after family breakdown
- Helpline: 0300 0300 363 (Mon-Fri 09:00–22:00, and weekends 10:00-15:00)
- Website gives information, advice, guidance and support for parents on all aspects of family life, including how separation affects children.
- Resolution (formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association SFLA) offer a constructive, non-confrontational approach.
- Phone: 01689 820272 (Mon-Fri 09:00 – 17:30)
- Email: [email protected]
- Useful brochure: Separation and Divorce: Helping Parents to Help Children
- Helps separating parents make arrangements for their children.
- England and Wales
- Contact National Family Mediation for details of your local branch.
- Phone: 0300 4000 636 (Mon-Fri 09:00 – 17:00)
- Contact Relationships Scotland for details of your local branch
- Infoline: 0345 119 2020 (Mon-Fri 09:30-16:30)
- Northern Ireland
- Contact Family Mediation NI for details of your local branch. Phone: 028 9024 3265
- Website gives information on the interests of children involved in family proceedings for children, teenagers and adults.
- Lists of local services for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.