Family breakups are difficult for everyone involved. Children may feel angry, relieved or upset if parents are separating or getting a divorce. Kids may find it helpful to talk to someone outside of the family about their feelings and worries.
When a family breaks up, it is difficult for everyone involved. Sometimes, family breakups happen after long periods of fighting and unhappiness. At other times, they happen suddenly and it is hard to understand why. Family relationships change as a result of the split and there is often a lot of adjusting to do.
Family breakups affect people differently
Everyone affected by the family breakup will have their own feelings about the situation. You may feel:
- angry with the person who decided the family can no longer live together.
Common concerns with family breakups
Family breakups can lead to a number of concerns over:
- fighting between your parents
- discipline issues
- disputes with brothers and sisters
- the need for time and affection from both your parents
- the need for greater independence if you are a teenager
- getting into trouble for various misdemeanours
- how the breakup is affecting other family members.
Making sense of the breakup
There are some things you can do to try and make sense of the family breakup, including:
- Ask your parents why they have decided to stop living together. Think carefully about when is the right time to ask this question. If someone is upset or emotional, it may be best to wait until they are calm.
- Tell your parents who you would prefer to live with.
- Ask your parents not to take you aside individually to talk about their problems with each other.
- Try to maintain your relationship with each parent separately.
- Talk to other family members about how you feel.
Try talking to someone outside of the family
People you can talk to include:
- a counsellor – for example, a school counsellor
- a telephone counselling service – for example, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. These services will give you the chance to talk through your distress, confusion and grief over the family breakup.
Many people experience family breakups
Every year around 10,000 children and young people contact Kids Help Line about family relationship concerns, including:
- Many children have tried to speak to their parents or other family members but have either been ignored or had their concerns minimised.
- Some children find it difficult to raise problems with their family.
- Some need help to make sense of their concerns before they approach family members.
- Sometimes, kids phone because there is no one else to turn to.
Which parent to live with after a family breakup
If your family breaks up, it will have to be decided which parent you will live with. Some of the possibilities are:
- One of your parents will have sole custody and you will live with that parent.
- Your parents will share custody.
- One parent will have custody of you for the majority of the time. The other parent will have access visits a certain number of times each week, fortnight or month. If your parents live far apart, you may find school holidays are the time you catch up with the parent you don’t live with.
Agreeing about who should have custody
Sometimes, parents are able to work out custody arrangements themselves. At other times, they need the help of the Family Court to make this decision.
If custody is decided by the court:
- Your point of view will be taken into account. The older you are, the more your opinion will count.
- You will be able to talk to a Family Court counsellor, if you need to talk to someone outside of the family about the breakup.
Where to get help
- Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800
- Family Relationship Advice Line Tel. 1800 050 321 Monday to Friday, 8 am to 8 pm, Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, except national public holidays
- Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14
Things to remember
- It takes time and effort to adjust to family breakups.
- Family breakups can cause a range of feelings, from anger to relief.
- Talking to your parents or someone else outside the family can help you to make sense of a family breakup.
You might also be interested in:
- Family breakups - supporting children.
- Family conflict - how to cope.
- Parenting - communicating with teenagers.
- Parenting - communicating with young children.
- Parenting - coping with stress.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
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Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: January 2014
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