Children whose parents are splitting up

This page is for children and young people whose parents have split up or are splitting up. This is not unusual, in fact 1 in 3 children aged under 16 will experience their parents splitting up.   

The important thing to remember is that it is not your fault if your parents split up. There are lots of reasons why parents might split up. Usually it’s because one or both of them have decided that they aren’t happy being together anymore. Whatever the reason, it is because of a problem in their relationship, and not because of anything you have done.

You should also remember that even when parents don’t love each other any more, they still love their children. Instead of thinking of your family breaking up, you might find it easier to think of it as changing shape. Both of your parents will still be your family, it will just be a different kind of family. 

For example, one parent will probably live in a different place now, but you will still see them and have a relationship with them, so they are still family.

What are divorce and separation?

When parents are no longer together, you may hear it called either getting ‘divorced’ or ‘separating’.

Separating normally means that two people won’t be in a relationship or live in the same house anymore. They have chosen to live their lives separately. 

Divorce is what happens when married parents decide they don’t want to be legally married any more. Getting divorced might happen at the same time as your parents are splitting up, but it might happen some time after. Sometimes, parents will stay separated for a long time before they get divorced.

Divorce can take a long time because there is a lot to decide. When two people are married, they legally both own things like their house or a car, but getting divorced means they can’t own those things together any more. Your parents will have to agree these things and they may have to talk to lawyers, or go to court for a judge to decide things if they can’t agree. 

Parents who aren’t married still need to make the same decisions, but they won’t have to talk lawyers or go to court. They may still want help or advice from lawyers or other people though, as it’s not always easy to decide.

What happens to me?

When parents split up, there are some things that have to be decided. The most important thing is how they will look after their children.

Your parents will have to decide who you will live with and how much time you will spend with each of them. If you are younger than 16, you have to live with one of your parents at all times.

  • Often children stay with one parent for most of the time, and see the other parent at specific times, such as on weekends. 
  • Some parents decide to split the time their children spend with them more equally, for example spending a few days a week with each parent.
  • Special times like going on holiday, birthdays, and Christmas, will also have to be decided.

While this is for your parents to decide, you can still talk to them about what you want and ask questions. You might want to write down your questions and thoughts to help you when you’re talking to them.

Another important thing that your parents will decide is how they’ll pay for things you need. If you are only going to see one of your parents occasionally, they will give some money to the parent you spend most of your time with. This is to help them pay for things you need, like food and clothes. Paying money like this is called child maintenance.

Your feelings

Having your parents split up is a very emotional time. You’ll probably experience a lot of different strong feelings including being upset, sad, angry, or confused. All of these are normal and are to be expected when such a big change is happening in your life.

One of the best things to help you feel better is to talk about how you feel. It is important you talk to your parents, so that they understand what you are feeling, and so that you can feel close to them when things are difficult. It can also be helpful to talk to other people who are not in the middle of everything. 

Choose someone you trust to talk to about how you feel. They 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.

Sometimes you might want to talk, but 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 of how you feel.

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

Find Out More

To find out more, you can visit Voices in the Middle, which is a website that helps young people when their parents are splitting up.

You can read the ‘My Family’s Changing’ leaflets from CAFCASS. They have two different leaflets depending on your age. 

There are also lots of story books you can read about children whose parents split up, which can help you understand how you feel about what’s happening. See if you like anything in these book lists and ask your parents if you could have some of them to read.

Getting Help

As well as talking to friends and family, the organisations below specialise in helping young people during difficult times.

ChildLine offer help to everyone under 19. You can talk to them about anything on the phone or talk online using 1-2-1 counsellor chat.

The Mix offers support and advice to young people, including answering awkward or embarrassing questions you may not feel confident asking other people. You can use their Crisis Messenger service to have a text conversation if you are having painful emotions or you’re in a crisis.

Kidscape offer help for young people who are being bullied.

Beat helps young people beat their eating disorders, with a helpline, online support, and self-help groups.

Young Stonewall provides advice and support for young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, as well as those who are questioning their gender or sexual identity.

ImportantEmergency help

Remember, if you are struggling with your feelings, or if someone is hurting you, you can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or talk to them online.

If you ever feel like you want to end your life, please seek immediate help from the emergency services on 999. You can also call or text HopeLine UK on 0800 068 41 41 to talk to someone.

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