Advice for separating and divorcing parents

Image of a teen girl sitting on a lounge between her parents. Her dad rests his hand on her knee to comfort her.

Deciding to divorce or separate is tough, but it's only just the start. What will it really mean for you and your family? No one knows, but we can give you some good places to start.

Divorce/separation ... Potato/po-ta-toe

We sometimes use the words interchangeably, but divorce and separation do mean slightly different things. Divorce is when your marriage is legally over. Separation is when you’ve decided to end the relationship but, if you were married, it isn’t legally over. If you were never married, breaking up could also be called a separation. Either way, you will probably need to figure out shared-care arrangements for your children. This information on co-parenting can guide you through the process.

Will splitting up negatively affect your teen?

Divorce or separation can affect your teen in many ways. It can be a great opportunity for starting afresh by removing conflict from the household, allowing both parents’ relationships with the teenager to become stronger. However, it’s important to be aware of potential negative impacts so that you can spot them and take action to help. The situation could cause your teen to:

  • feel angry, sad or withdrawn – they might get in trouble at school or lash out at home

  • feel anxious and be eager to please you – they might cling to you or go to lengths to try and make you happy

  • withdraw and keep their worries from you – such as going from being chatty and open to just saying everything is ‘fine’ all the time

  • struggle with the changes around friends and school, if you’re moving house.

If you’re coming from violence or trauma, separation or divorce might also bring issues around this to the surface. Read about how you can support your teenager, and what services you can contact if needed.

Helping your teen while caring for yourself

Divorce and separation are tough on you, as well as on your teen. Taking care of yourself is really important so that you can be fully there for your child. Remember, it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask first, before you can help anyone else! Get some tips in this video where other parents talk about what they do to take care of themselves.

Keep the lines of communication open, and listen carefully to what your child has to say. Let them air their concerns, even if it’s hard for you to hear. If you know something is up but you’re not sure where to start, take this quiz to work out some potential issues your teen could be having, or use this guide to help you figure out what’s bothering your teen.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The Reachout Forums and Parents One-on-One Support are a great place to ask questions and come up with a plan.

So, you're a co-parent now?

Being a co-parent is a whole new skill and might feel a little overwhelming, along with everything else going on. Co-parenting is the new relationship you have with your ex-partner, where you still work together to parent your teen, even though you’re not a couple anymore. What that looks like is different for every family, so focus on what’s best for yours. Check out this article for tips on working out a co-parenting arrangement. Try to keep a good working relationship with your ex, even if you don’t like them, as this will benefit your teen in the long run.

Divorce and separation can be tough on both parents and kids. With the right support and planning, you can give your teen the skills to adapt to the change and continue to have a positive outlook for the future.

Have a crack at some things you can do right now.