Separation and Divorce
When a family goes through a separation or a divorce there is often a lot of really difficult stuff to deal with at home - there is lots of change, emotion, and often tension in the family.
While most people are aware that a separation or divorce can be a big deal, often they assume that it is not as difficult for teenagers. The reality is that it can be hard on all members of the family, particularly as separation and divorce often takes place over a long period of time - months or years.
At this time, you are often dealing with what's going on between your parents as well as many other changes - things that most people don't even notice or think about. This can be really challenging. Examples of such changes are things like:
- not having your dog at your home all the time
- having to be at a different house
- eating different food
- getting used to new family members
These are all major things that take time to get used to, and make a big difference to how you feel and cope with what is going on around you.
Understanding your feelings
Every family's situation and experience of separation is different. For some people, when their parents decide to split up it can be a surprise. For other people there can be a sense of devastation or shock, while for others still, there can be sense of relief. Most of the time people feel both positive and negative about different aspects of parental separation.
It is really normal to feel lots of different emotions if your parents separate. For example you might feel:
If your parents separate, it is important to understand that whatever you are feeling - whether it is sadness, relief (or anything else!), is normal and okay. Also, most people find that their emotions change from day to day or moment to moment and they cope with them in different ways.
Tips for dealing with feelings
Some things young people have told us that help them include:
- Talking to someone you trust
- Crying - sometimes it can help you feel better and release emotions!
- Laughing - watching a funny movie or joking with friends
- Getting outside - going for a walk or bike ride
- Spending time with friends
- Writing in a journal
- Spending time doing things you enjoy - going to the movies, reading, sports
- Doing something creative such as drawing, singing and dancing
Talk with your parents
Talking with a parent about what you are feeling can be helpful. However, keep in mind that sometimes when parents are experiencing their own pain, they might not be in the best frame of mind to respond supportively. Your parents may be too sad and angry themselves to be able to listen to what you are feeling about the separation. If you want to talk with your parent, take care and choose a suitable time (maybe over afternoon tea).
If you would like to talk, it's important to find someone close to you who you can talk to. It might be helpful to discuss your feelings with someone who you can trust - this might be a friend, neighbour, family member or Kids Helpline.
Remember, you are not alone. Family separation affects around 11,000 teenagers in Australia each year. If you talk with your friends, you may find that they have been in a similar situation and can offer support and suggestions.
When parents separate, there is often a lot of tension in the home, which can result in young people feeling like they are 'in trouble' or have done something wrong. There may even be times when mum and dad fight about you or something to do with you, and sometimes you may even get told that you are to blame for the problems they are having. This can lead to thoughts and feelings of self-blame, fear and guilt. Often the way we feel links to the way that we think and the way that we act.
It is important to remember that what is going on in your family is not your fault and that you are not to blame for your parent's problems. You are not responsible for your parent's relationship.
Whatever the circumstances there are a few things to keep in mind:
- It is not your fault! - parents are responsible for what is happening between them
- It is not up to you to fix your parents problems
- Your concerns do matter and are important - even though sometimes they can be overlooked and forgotten when things are tough between mum and dad
Managing after a separation
Divorce and separation can have ongoing challenges for families. Even long after a divorce or separation happens, there may be some things that are difficult to manage, and often teenagers feel like they are caught in the middle. Whilst not all families have the same issues, some common things that can happen are:
- Your parents may say things, or ask questions about the other parent, that make/s you feel uncomfortable
- You might be asked to pass messages from one parent to the other
- One parent may buy you more presents than you are comfortable with - this can make things difficult particularly if one parent doesn't have the same amount of money or has different ideas about buying presents
One of the key things to remember is that you don't have to take sides with either parent if you don't want to. It is okay to let mum and dad know how you feel and to let them know that it is up to them to communicate with each other. This can be really hard in some families so it is often a good idea to talk through what is going on with someone you trust, and decide what is the best way to handle your unique situation. You might like to consider talking things through with a counsellor to explore what is happening for you and what you might be able to do about it.
Who do you live with?
There isn't any rule for how old you have to be to choose which parent you want to live with. You are entitled to have an opinion at any age and your parents should listen to how you feel and what you have to say.
If they can't agree on where you will live, the decision may have to be made by the Family Court. The Family Court will consider your views and preferences when they make a decision.
Tips for living in two homes
For most kids, parents separating means that they have two places to call home, and they will often divide their time between mum's place and dad's place. Some may live half the time at mum's and half the time at dad's, while others might live mostly with one parent and stay with the other on weekends or holidays.
Living in two homes can be tricky sometimes. It often means two different routines and sets of rules. For example, maybe dad might let you do some things that mum doesn't.
Some tips for living in two homes are:
- If you don't have your own bedroom, ask if you can have a special place to store your stuff or put up a divider so you have private space
- Ask to have two sets of things you need every day at each house, like a toothbrush and hairbrush
- Write on the calendar or a diary where you will be, with who, on which day
Staying in touch
For some young people, after their parents separate they still spend lots of time with both their mum and their dad, but this is not always the case. Sometimes one parent might move to a different city, town or state and it becomes difficult to spend as much time with them as before.
However, there's still lots of ways to stay in touch. You might like to:
- Make regular times to talk on the phone or on Skype
- Write letters or emails
- Send texts
Sometimes, young people find one parent lets them down and isn't really interested in spending time with them anymore. That can be really hard to deal with and can mean that staying in touch will be difficult or won't happen at all.
It's important to remember that even if your parent decides that they don't want to stay in touch, it doesn't necessarily mean that their family doesn't want to hear from you or see you. So, even if you don't see your mum or dad, you can still see your grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins on their side of the family.
What are your rights?
Every child and young person is entitled to legal and basic human rights. During and after the separation, you have a right to:
- a meaningful relationship with both your parents
- be protected from abuse, neglect or family violence
- receive adequate and proper parenting to help you achieve your full potential
- know and be cared for by both parents
- spend time with and communicate with both parents and other significant people, such as grandparents and other relatives
- the support and encouragement necessary to maintain a connection with your culture.
It is important to note that your parents have specific rights and responsibilities to look after you until you turn 18. They must provide you with food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and protection. Separation does not generally change your parents' legal duties.
You can find our more about your rights at www.lawstuff.org.au
If you need to talk to someone you can call Kids Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 55 1800, or use our web or email counselling service.
Some helpful links
The Child Support Agency - a great publication to help young people experiencing family separationThe National Children and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC) - information on Australia's implementation on the National Convention on the Rights of the Child Lawstuff - provides information and advice on your legal rights Family Law Courts - provides information and advice on family law, separation and divorce
- The Australian Family Law Act 1975 (60B) www.familycourt.gov.au
Published: 10 November 2010