Relationship breakdown and your children

Divorce or separation is a difficult time for all concerned and children can become very involved emotionally in what's happening. However, there are a number of ways you can help make the process as painless as possible for your children.

Help with sorting out separation

Separated parents can often feel lost and unsure, not knowing what to do or where to turn to find the best information and support.

Sorting Out Separation is an online service that can help by providing you with information, links, tools and videos on a range of separation issues, such as:

  • child maintenance
  • managing conflict
  • parenting on your own
  • financial, legal and housing matters

While a lot of information on this is not specific to Northern Ireland at the moment, you can create a local plan based on your situation.

To create your plan and to make sure we get you the right local help and information, the first thing you need to do is give us some details about your current circumstances. Start now to work out what is best for you and your children.

How can you help your children?

  • children often think the divorce is their fault; listen carefully and reassure your child - perhaps many times over - it's not their fault
  • separating or divorcing couples should try to avoid asking the child who they want to live with; it can place a lot of pressure on the child who may feel they are being asked which parent they love more
  • older children may become resentful and even aggressive to one of the parents , especially if they feel that one parent is to blame - try to understand this but don't let it have a negative impact on the relationship between the adults or encourage children to take sides
  • stability (routines, schools, club times for example) is important while you and your family make the transition; be especially sensitive if a particular activity was usually linked with one of the parents - encourage your children to keep doing the things they like to do, but don't force them
  • even if you feel angry towards your partner, you must not to let this boil over into physical or verbal violence - children can suffer physical and psychological damage if they see fighting and may be permanently affected
  • try to resolve conflicts with your partner early; there are charities and other organisations who can provide counselling and mediation services - the longer you leave a problem unresolved, the worse it can be for your children, especially if the conflict is about them
  • don't use your children to negotiate or to take messages for you and don't ask them to keep secrets or give you information about your partner - it's not fair to them and it may make them feel unhappy
  • allow your children to be upset and show emotion; say that it is okay to cry and don't make them feel guilty about showing affection or concern about their other parent

Keeping your children informed

Childcare experts agree that it is important to keep your children informed at every stage of your separation or divorce. You are not protecting your children by keeping things from them.

Tell your children what is happening to their family, it's better for them to know. They don't need every detail, but they do need enough information to know what is going on, depending upon their age. They may not wish to be involved in making decisions, but most children will still want to feel they are being listened to.

Encourage them to ask questions and try to give them honest and reassuring answers, but don't promise what you cannot deliver. If something is not yet decided, then say so and reassure them that you will tell them as soon as you can.

Reaching an agreement

Reaching an agreement out of court about issues such as your children’s care is usually the best way. You may not be able to reach total agreement, but it can still help to make issues easier to resolve even if you do go to court.

Mediation can be used when you have decided to go ahead with a divorce, dissolution of your civil partnership or separation, by helping you to work out solutions between you in ways that reduce confrontation.

You can ask a trained family mediator to act as an impartial third party; they will help couples come to an agreement without bias or being on anyone’s ‘side’.

Family Mediation NI have been contracted by the Health and Social Care Board to provide a free mediation service to separated couples who have not yet begun Court proceedings.  

The Family Support NI website also contains a directory of accredited family mediation services in Northern Ireland who may be able to help you.

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