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Adjusting to your parents splitting up

If your parents have separated or are in the process of splitting up, this page is for you. 

You probably have a mixture of feelings about this change – you might be feeling sad, or angry, or like you’ve done something wrong. You might be worried about the future. When parents separate, it can be hard for everyone in the family. But this happens a lot (1 in 3 kids under 16 go through this). And it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault.

There are lots of reasons why parents might split up. Usually it’s because one or both of them have decided they aren’t happy being together anymore. Whatever their reason, it’s down to a problem in their relationship – not because of anything you’ve done.

And even if your parents don’t love each other anymore, they do still love you. So instead of thinking about your family breaking up, you could think about it as changing shape. You’ll still have both your parents – your family will just look a little different. For example, one of your parents will probably live somewhere else now. But you will still be a family.

This page talks you through what it means when parents separate. It also explains how you might be feeling and what you can do to get help, if you need it.

What does separating mean?

What might happen

Understanding your feelings

You’re not alone

Emergency help

What does separation mean?

If your parents have decided to change their relationship, you might hear them say they’re separating or getting divorced.

Separating normally means 2 people won’t be in a relationship or live in the same house any more. They’ve decided it’s best to live their lives separately. 

Divorce is what happens when married parents decide they don’t want to be legally married any longer. Sometimes parents get officially divorced straight away when they split up. But sometimes this happens later. If your parents are in a civil partnership and want to end it, this is called getting a dissolution.

Divorce can take a long time. There’s a lot to decide and you have to go through a legal process, which takes at least 6 months. When 2 people are married or in a civil partnership, they legally own things together, like their house or car. Ending their relationship means they can’t own those things together any more. So they have to agree on how to divide things up. They may have to talk to solicitors or go to court for a judge to decide, if they can’t agree. 

Parents who aren’t married still need to make the same decisions, but they don’t have to talk to lawyers or go to court. They can just talk and decide together. This isn’t always easy to do, so they may still want help or advice from solicitors or other people.

What might happen

When parents split up, one of the most important things for them to decide is how they’ll look after their children.

If you’re under 16, your parents will decide where you’ll live and how much time you’ll spend with each one of them. 

  • A lot of times, children stay with one parent for most of the time and see the other parent at certain times like weekends. 
  • Some parents decide their children will spend more equal time between them – for example, you might spend a few days a week with each of your parents.
  • They’ll also have to decide where you’ll be at special times like holidays, birthdays and Christmas.

Your parents should talk to you and listen to what you want to do, but it’s up to them to decide. Before you talk to them, you might want to write down your questions and what you think. If your parents can’t agree on what to do, they might need help from a specially trained person – someone called a mediator who can guide their conversation. If they still can’t agree, they may need to go to court for a judge to decide. The judge’s decision will be based on what they think is right for you. They’ll listen to what you think and take this into consideration.

Another important thing that your parents will decide is how they’ll pay for the things you need. If you spend more time with one of your parents than the other, the other parent will give money to the person you spend most time with. This is to help them pay for things you need, like food and clothes. Paying money like this is called child maintenance or child support.

Understanding your feelings

When your parents split up you’ll probably feel all sorts of emotions. You might feel shocked, sad, angry or confused. You may feel guilty or blame yourself. You might even feel relieved if your parents argued a lot or were violent. All of these emotions are normal when such a big change is happening in your life.

One of the best ways to help yourself feel better is to talk about how you feel. If you can, talk to your parents. This will help them understand what you’re feeling – and it will help you feel closer to them. 

It can also be helpful to talk to other people who aren’t in the middle of everything. Choose someone you trust – this could be:

  • Someone in your family, like an aunt, uncle or cousin
  • A good friend
  • A teacher that you get on well with
  • Someone you know whose parents have also split up
  • A counsellor – your school might have one, or you could ask your doctor about a referral

You might want to talk, but feel like you don’t know what to say. It can help to write down a list of things that are bothering you, or to draw a picture that helps explain how you feel.

It’s also OK if sometimes you don’t want to talk – you might just want to do something to take your mind off things. Just make sure that when you do feel like you want to talk, you do.

You’re not alone

Lots of children go through what you’re going through. There are people and organisations who specialise in helping you. If you want to find out more about adjusting to your parents splitting up, or you want to talk to someone who understands, here are some good places to go.

  • Voices in the Middle helps young people when their parents are splitting up – it has advice and support and stories from other young people
  • Cafcass works with children and young people in family court cases. They have information about their work and what happens in family court  
  • Childline – for some really useful information about what to do when your parents divorce or split up, and you can call, message or email them if you want to talk
  • YoungMinds – advice and support for young people on a whole range of feelings and issues
  • The Mix – support for teenagers on lots of different issues – from mental health to relationships and school life – through a helpline, online chat, text messages and email
  • Kidscape – help and advice if you’re being bullied

Emergency help

If you’re really struggling, ask for help. Don’t wait.

You can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or talk to them online. Or you can text Shout on 85258 to message with a trained volunteer. You’re not wasting anyone’s time and you will be taken seriously.

If you feel like you want to end your life, call 999. Don’t worry – this IS an emergency. You can also call HopeLine UK on 0800 068 4141 or text them on 07860039967, or call Samaritans for free 24 hours a day on 116 123.

Date last updated: 16 April 2024

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