Children and separation: first steps for parents

Knowing how to deal with the practical issues of separation – sorting out new living arrangements, arranging child support – can help your life run more smoothly at a difficult time.

Even though you are no longer in a romantic relationship with your child’s other parent, your first job is to build a new kind of relationship – a parenting partnership. Try to remember that your children's experience of your ex-partner is different from yours. Focus on your strengths as partners and parents, and let your children’s needs guide you.

Communicating with your ex

  • Avoid blaming yourself or your partner.
  • Agree not to let your own relationship issues come into the discussion.
  • Create some rules together about how to manage meetings.
  • If the conversation breaks down, agree to stop and continue at another time.
  • Don't use your child to pass message between you and your partner.
  • Focus on child-related issues and stick to the point.
  • Work on an online Parenting Plan.
When you can't see eye to eye

It’s inevitable that there will be some conflict or disagreement, but if you find that you can't see eye to eye, or if you're worried about anything, you could benefit from the help of a third party.

This doesn't have to mean going through the courts. Mediation can help you to negotiate your decisions and communicate better with your ex. A trained mediator's job is to act as an impartial third party, helping you exchange information, ideas and feelings constructively.

Many parents end up distracted and upset during separation and find it hard to give their child the support they need. If you need help, call on a friend, health professional or counsellor. A sympathetic ear and a bit of reassurance can make life more manageable. Grandparents and other relatives can also be a source of support for you and your child.

Does spending time with all parents/carers matter?

Most children want to spend time with their parents/carers and carry on seeing both of them as part of their family. Keeping in contact with the parent who has left home reassures a child that, although life will be different, they are not losing one of their parents.

The pain of separation and change can be worse for children if they also lose touch with others they are close to. Keeping in touch with other family members (who may also be able to offer extra support) can help a child adjust to new family arrangements.

It's the quality of parenting that matters most, not the amount of time. Effective parenting, showing an interest, encouragement, love, and warmth are what counts.

However, there are situations where the child arrangements may be damaging - for example, where there is no previous relationship or where there are known risks of abuse or neglect, domestic abuse, or extreme conflict between the parents. In these cases, the court may place restrictions around child arrangements, and these should be heeded.