Children & Separation


How to tell children of the changing circumstances

When parents separate, the first concern must be arrangements for their children. Issues that must be tackled include how children are told about their parents’ separation and how they are best supported through it. There is then the question of how a child’s time will be divided between parents once they have established separate households.

Arrangements for their children can be one of the most difficult and emotive issues for separating parents. Consequentially, the same arrangements are frequently the source of more serious and profound disagreements. Childcare professionals (and commonsense) tell us that parental separation is a confusing and distressing time for every child. It is crucial, when addressing arrangements for the future, to do everything possible to limit the stress and anxiety generated. This benefits the adults. More importantly, it benefits the children.

Help and Support for separated parents

There are a great many resources providing support and practical guidance to parents experiencing separation. These can help whether accessed instead of, or in parallel with, legal advice or court proceedings. There are also some resources designed in particular to help the child affected, which use age-appropriate language and terminology.

Parenting Plans

CAFCASS produce a comprehensive parenting plan booklet which provides guidance on agreeing some or all arrangements affecting the children of separated parents. A version of the parenting plan booklet is available online.

Parenting after parting sessions

Various organisations offer parenting after parting sessions which offer practical solutions on co-parenting following a separation. Many parents who attend these sessions report being struck by the information provided about the huge emotional damage done to children through parents engaged in bitter and long-running disputes about them.

We can offer details of groups, charities and organisations offering Parenting after Parting sessions.

Helpful Books

For Children Aged 3 to 8 years old:

For Children Aged 8 and up:

Useful Websites

These are particularly suited for older children.

  • There are several online websites which are very helpful in emphasising to the children that the separation is not a problem caused by them, but is an adult issue.
  • When Parents Part – On this website, there is a DVD entitled “When parents part” accompanied by a booklet. It is a film made by young people and their separating parents. The emphasis is based on letting young people know they are not alone in the situation.
  • Childline – Offers a free confidential helpline open 24 hours.

Changing circumstances – who to inform

Informing your children about the changes that will affect them will be your first priority on separation. However, you should also bear in mind that there are others who will need to be told about some of the practical changes.

You should tell your children’s school that you are separating. This will help ensure the school are aware of the situation at home, and can deal with any issues which arise during the school day. It will also help them coordinate over practical matters: for example, who will be doing the school run, arrangements on parent / teacher evenings and sport days, etc. All schools nowadays are very used to helping separated parents, and many will have resources available in-house. It is therefore a good idea to make contact as soon as possible.

Depending on your living arrangements you may need to notify the Child Benefit Agency of any change of address or change of payee.

Maintenance and financial considerations

Financial arrangements affecting children should always be discussed. Separating parents should consider how the change in circumstances will affect how they each contribute financially to ensure their children’s needs are met.

Separating parents might consider, and discuss answers to, the following questions:

  • What regular payments will be made for the children’s needs? When will payments be made and how (many parents prefer a direct debit arrangement)? What will the amount be?
  • Who will pay for clothes and shoes for the children? Who will pay for uniforms, sports equipment and other kit etc?
  • Who will pay for holidays? Who will pay for school trips?
  • Who will give the children pocket money?
  • Who will pay for bigger outgoings: bicycles, computers, musical instruments?
  • How will you support the children through college, university or other training courses?
  • How and when will financial arrangements be reviewed?

If you are not able to agree on the level of maintenance, most parents will be able to apply for a formal assessment by the Child Support Agency. Those who cannot will be able to ask the court to decide the amount of maintenance that should be paid.

Your separation might also mean that one of you will become entitled to tax credits. If tax credits are already being paid, separation may require them to be reassessed. For information on eligibility to claim tax credits, and the amount that might be payable, visit the HMRC website, and the dedicated tax credit section.

Separating parents should also consider reviewing their wills, to review decisions about what happens in the event of their death.

Dispute Resolution

Not all parents are able to agree all aspects of their child’s upbringing. Some need help, either generally or in relation to a particular issue.

Courts now actively require parents to consider alternative methods of resolving disputes about their children before applying for orders.

We sometimes find that decisions made by a Judge are not really to the liking of either parent. This is one of the risks of litigation. Parents who can agree arrangements outside of the court process retain control. They can tailor outcomes more subtly to their family’s needs. And reaching an agreement can also send an important message to children that both parents support the new arrangements.

There are a number of alternatives to court proceedings to settle disputes about children. The most popular are as follows:

  • Mediation
  • Child Inclusive/Child Consultation Mediation
  • Some specialist mediators are able to meet with the children at the centre of the dispute, to listen to their voice and viewpoint, and report back to the adults what is said. This helps parents reach decisions informed by their children’s wishes and feelings. It is more relevant for older children.
  • Collaborative Law
  • Negotiations through solicitors
  • Instructing a solicitor does not mean a case is destined for court. Many cases are resolved without the case ever going before a Judge. Others settle quickly after court proceedings are issued. A competent and specialist children solicitor’s repertoire includes an instinct and ability to recognise opportunities to negotiate, and to utilise those opportunities to achieve the best outcome for his or her client.

How can we help?

  • Identify resources that parents (and their children) may find useful when dealing with separation;
  • Help you decide who to tell (and what the messages ought to be) when you and your partner separate;
  • Help with decisions about maintenance for the benefit of children;
  • Identify the best resources to help you resolve any dispute that arises following on from your separation, to include (if necessary) court proceedings.

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