Children’s wellbeing following separation or divorce

For most parents, the wellbeing of their children is a prime concern when ending a relationship. Worrying about how divorce or separation will affect their kids is a common theme and can often be one of the few things parents agree on during this difficult time.

How children react when their parents choose to no longer live together is dependent on a number of things, such as the age, gender and maturity of the child, how well their parents are able to keep the best interests of the children top of mind and the support network around the children.

While it is normal that children will grieve for the change in family circumstances, parents can dramatically impact how their children respond to parental separation. The first step in doing this is to ensure children are aware that their wellbeing is their parents’ prime concern.

Children’s response to separation

Just as with their parents, the initial response to separation may be anger and sadness. This initial response may be shown as withdrawal from family, friends and activities they usually enjoy; behavioural problems or reduced self-confidence. It is not uncommon for children, particularly younger children, to feel that they themselves are responsible or have in some way caused their parents to separate.

Reassurance, understanding and listening to their needs and concerns are all essential to supporting children through separation. Children’s emotions may well fluctuate and being there to listen when they want to talk things through and being understanding if they behave out of character or poorly will help.

The role of co-parents after separation

Whilst partners may have chosen to end their relationship, the role of co-parents continues. Whilst everyone’s circumstances will differ (our experience shows there’s no “typical” separation), there are a few general tips that parents can follow that best support their child’s wellbeing.

  1. Be there for your kids. Whether it is in a physical presence or emotional sense, it is usually best for both parents to be actively involved in their child’s lives. This means showing interest in their activities, making time to spend with them and showing that you care.
  2. Be open and honest. It’s important for parents to answer their kids’ questions about the separation as openly and honestly as they can – keeping mind the age of the children. Bear in mind that children may take time to process what is happening. Reassurance that they can talk about the separation and feel safe, loved and protected is important.
  3. Support their relationship with the other parent. Regardless of how one parent may feel about the other, it is important to children that parents respect their relationship with the other parent. This includes keeping commitments, providing ease of access and not badmouthing the other parent. This can also be extended to in-law grandparents and other family members.
  4. Ensure continuity where possible. Ensuring children’s social and school relationships are maintained is another important step.  Children need to know that some aspects of their lives are unchanged to where possible avoiding changing schools or attendance at other activities.  On the other hand, it is important to know that children can cope with change as long as their parents remain positive and keep them out of the conflict.
  5. Look after yourself. It’s an old adage that you can’t look after others if you don’t look after yourself. Both parents should ensure they are getting the support they need, including time to themselves, adequate sleep and nutritious food.
  6. Getting support when needed. There are plenty of options for parents and children who need professional support to deal with separation. We have a large network of trusted professionals who we can refer you to. This includes psychologists, counsellors and mediators.

Negotiating parenting arrangements

Parents are able to negotiate their own arrangements for the care of their child which might then be formalised into a parenting plan which is a non-legally binding document that sets out how children are to be cared for after separation. A plan will typically include details of children’s living arrangements, how parents are to communicate with each other, financial maintenance and any other aspects that contribute to the care and wellbeing of a child.

If parents come to us having already agreed such arrangements we can create a formalised Parenting Plan that reflects the agreement made or talk to you about formalising your agreement into orders.  We can also help clients to negotiate arrangements in conjunction with other professionals to best reflect the needs and interests of the child.

At Umbrella Family Law we understand that the wellbeing of children is a prime concern when ending a relationship. Working with our wide ranging and trusted network of professionals across Melbourne and Victoria we can assist you to negotiate parenting arrangements that reflect the best interests of your children.