The Parent Guide For Couples and Parents Who Separate or Divorce – Help & Advice For Parent Separation

Parents Separating and Divorce

Divorce and separation can be hard on families and if there are children involved, they can find themselves in the middle of what can be an anxious time for all concerned. It is a time when children need all the support they can get and when parents need to know their rights and the legal requirements for divorce.


Married couples who separate and who don’t have children can also go through a rough time and can find themselves in stressful financial situations with some people even finding themselves homeless. Separation and divorce creates a time when all concerned need all the support and help they can get at a time when they are feeling very vulnerable.

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  • Helping Children Deal With Separation or Divorce

    Children need to be kept in the loop when parents are about to separate or divorce but finding the right time to start a conversation on what is often a “difficult” topic can prove challenging. However, as a parent your priority is to keep the children safe which can be achieved through communication and the right kind of support which is needed to get all concerned through a difficult and unsure time.

    There are many instances when a parent has to broach a difficult subject with a child whether it’s to tell them about some bad news or to offer advice and warnings on the use of drugs, smoking or sex. No matter how old your child or children happen to be, starting a conversation about a decision to separate or divorce can be painful for everyone. But if done correctly, it can bring you closer together. As a parent, you are in the best position when it comes to how and when you start the conversation so that everyone feels comfortable and at ease.

    Children are vulnerable and need to be protected from harm, hurt and abuse when a couple separate or divorce. All parents want their precious children to grow up in a safe environment so they mature into confident, content adults. Children need positive influences around them as they grow up, they need to feel loved, secure. Children need to know that there will always be someone there to talk to whose advice they know they can count and rely on.

    Taking the time to talk to your children when you believe they need to your help and advice, is the positive influence that’s needed when  a gentle nudge is needed to point them in the right direction when children seem anxious and uncertain.

    Separation and divorce can lead to bad feelings in families and in particular between both parents which can affect children badly. This is why taking care of children during a divorce is so important. The result is often a child feeling confused and desperately unhappy. Some children also feel they may responsible for their parents breaking up.

    There are certain things you can do to make it easier for your children to cope with their parents divorcing or separating which includes the following:

    • To remind a child or children that both of their parents love them
    • To always be honest when talking about the break-up and to always take into consideration a child or children’s age and therefore their understanding of the situation and what is going on around them
    • To avoid blaming anyone for the separation or divorce, something that often happens which can be very confusing for children
    • To keep to routines which includes making sure mealtimes and going to school are not disrupted
    • To let children know that you are always there for them to talk and that it is perfectly okay for them to have feelings of anger, sad or confused
    • To listen to your child or children more that speaking to them and to answer any questions so that they know they can trust and rely on you. This in turn will help them open up to you when they feel they need to

    It is worth noting that some children find it harder to talk to a family member about separation or divorce so it is important that a child knows they can contact someone they can trust at Childline by calling 0800 1111 or they can have a chat online with someone from Childline who would always be willing to listen to any concerns a child might have.

    Your Legal Responsibility and Custody

    Mothers in general have parental responsibility of their children from birth.

    Fathers would usually have parental responsibility for children if they are listed on a child’s birth certificate and/or were married to the children’s mother.

    Should both a father and mother have parental responsibility, both are responsible for their children’s well-being right up to they reach adulthood which is when children turn 18 years of age.

    What About Agreeing on Contact With Children?

    It goes without saying that children do that much better when they are in contact with both of their parents. Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child recognises this as a fact and that all children have the right to “stay in contact” with both their parents should they separate or divorce with the only proviso being that it is in a child’s “best interests” and that it does not put them at any risk in any way.

    When it comes to who a child lives with and how visits are worked out, there are 3 ways of settling this which are as follows:

    • Contact arrangements
    • Family mediation
    • Child Arrangement Orders


  • Contact Arrangements


  • When referring to “contact arrangements” this describes who a child lives with – this is referred to as the resident parent. It also covers when a child would be allowed to see their “non-resident parent”.These contact arrangements are best discussed and decided by both parents who should place their focus on what is best for the children and not what is best for each of them.Decisions of this nature should be made without the need of going to court because this type of legal process can be lengthy, costly and very distressing for all concerned and more especially for children when parents separate or divorce.If you find it difficult or impossible to agree on contact arrangements, you can always contact the National Association of Child Contact Centres where you would find help, support and valuable advice. These contact centres provide a neutral and friendly environment where “non-resident parents” as well as other members of a family can meet with their children without having to meet with the “resident parent”.Family MediationIf you cannot agree with a partner on contact arrangements, you can always try family mediation which can resolve the issue without having to take things before a judge in court.

    Mediators are trained independent professionals and they can help you agree on contact arrangements.  A mediator would explain all the legal aspects involved when it comes to contact arrangements with children by non-resident parents.

    You may find that you could be entitled to legal aid which you can find out by contacting the Family Mediation Council.

    Mediation does not always solve the problem because a mediator may not be able to help parents come to an agreement on contact arrangements or because either of the parents does not want to attend a meeting.

    Child Arrangement Orders

    When mediation does not work, one or other of the parents can go through the courts by applying for a Child Arrangements Order, but this should be kept as a “last resort” when every other route has failed.

    Before you can make an application through the courts, you would need to show that you tried mediation first. You should also seek legal advice from a family law solicitor or seek advice at your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

    Child Arrangement Orders were previously referred to as “Contact Orders” and they are legally binding. The agreement sets out the following:

    • Which parent a child or children lives with – known as the “resident parent”
    • Who has the right to have contact with a child or children
    • How long and how often the “contact visits” can be


  • It is important to note that a court would only agree to make an Arrangements Order if they feel that it is in the best interest of a child or children to do so and would rather do this than make a “no order”.It is also worth noting that before you would see a judge, you would be allocated a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer who would work closely with you with an end goal being to assess any risks to a child or children that may be involved. The Cafcass officer would also assess whether a decision/agreement could be come to through mediation.

    How Do The Courts Decide?

     Every set of circumstances surrounding separation and divorce is different and every child is unique but one thing remains of paramount importance which is that the welfare of a child or children has to come first no matter what. As such, when coming to a decision on both contact and residence, a judge would place their focus on specific key factors which are as follows:

    • The feelings and wishes of a child or children
    • Any harm or any risk of harm to a child or children
    • A child’s emotional, physical and educational requirements
    • The likely effect any changes in a child’s circumstances
    • A child’s sex, age, characteristics and their background
    • Each parent’s ability to meet a child’s needs


  • There is a lot to know about looking after a child following a divorce once you have applied for a court order. Knowing your rights is crucial and can help you understand how decisions are come to by the courts where parenting plans are always considered as being of paramount importance. 

    The Law Relating to Contact

    There are several things the law covers when it comes to contact when parents separate or divorce which are detailed as follows:

    Can a child refuse contact with a parent?

    • A child cannot be forced to see their non-resident parent but should there be a court order in place, then the resident parent must by law, abide by the agreed arrangements.
    • You should always ask a child why they do not want contact with the non-resident parent or any other family member before you think about stopping the contact.
    • It is important for both parents to work together when it comes to helping a child feel happy and safe from abuse when they are in their care and that contact should be encouraged providing it does not place a child in harm’s way.
    • A child who feels their voice is not being heard, can contact NYAS which is an advocacy service that helps young people in England and Wales express their feelings and wishes


  • Can a parent refuse contact when there is a Child Arrangements Order in place?
    • A Child Arrangements Order is a legally binding agreement that is set in place to ensure that contact between a child and a non-resident parent takes place.
    • Should this legally binding agreement be broken, the parent who breached the Order runs the risk of being taken to court.
    • A contact agreement should only be broken should a parent believe a child is being put in harm’s way and they would have to offer proof of this in court
  • Can a parent refuse to let a child have contact with a non-resident parent when there is no Order issued?
    • Although legally you could refuse to allow contact, children are known to do better when they are allowed contact with both parents and their extended families.
    • What is best for a child should always come first and not what is best for a parent.
    • Any parent who feels that they are being denied contact unfairly should seek legal advice
  • Do grandparents have the right to see grandchildren?
    • Agreements can be reached with parents who have separated or divorced for grandparents to see their grandchildren but they do not have “automatic rights” to see a grandchild.
    • Should parents not agree, grandparents can contact the Grandparents Association who provide support for those who have been refused contact to grandchildren

    Leaving an Abusive Partner

    If you have been in an abusive relationship and have not managed to pluck up enough courage to leave because you are unsure of where to go and who to turn to for help and support, there are many groups and organisations that are there to help. This includes the following:

    • National Domestic Violence helpline
    • Women’s Aid
    • Rights of Women
    • Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors (FLOWS)
    • Men’s Advice Line
    • ManKind Initiative
    • Survivors UK Ltd
    • Everyman Project
    • M-Power
    • CJ Advice Family Service

    Why Talking is So Important When Couples Separate or Divorce

    Parents Talking

    When couples without children divorce or separate, bad feelings and insults can lead to depression and anxiety for what’s to come in the future. There are many instances where one of the partners ends up without a roof over their heads. This can result in an anxious time and could lead to depression.

    If you are finding it hard to cope with losing a family home, there are organisations that provide help and support. Trained people can help and they can offer invaluable advice and support to people who have separated or divorced when they need it the most.

    Being able to talk to others who are neutral and non-judgemental can make it that much easier for you to cope with any feelings of depression and anxiety you may have because you have separated or divorced from a partner. A feeling of loneliness and isolation can make you lose confidence in yourself and joining a self-help group can help you through what can only be a difficult time for anyone to navigate.

    Groups that can help include the following:

    • Mind
    • Anxiety UK
    • SANE
    • Rethink Mental Illness

    You may be worried on how a pension may be affected by your separation or divorce which is perfectly normal. Seeking help from a professional can help you understand the implications and affects a divorce could have on your pension which means there would be no surprises waiting for you around the corner.

    You would also need to think about child maintenance and the legal implications it involves which can put you under more pressure financially at a time when you are feeling vulnerable anyway.

    If you are a single parent and live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, Gingerbread provides essential practical support and advice on many things that could be playing on your mind which includes the following:

    • Advice on financial concerns
    • Advice on how to cope with separation
    • Advice on housing and work

    If you live in Scotland, One Parent Families offers the same service to single parents.

    Getting Help and Support

    If you are a parent or have been in a relationship and you need help or support following a separation or divorce, there are various organisations that you can contact. These are listed below:

    • Families Need Fathers
    • Gingerbread – One Parent Families provides this service in Scotland.
    • Relate
    • Family Lives (England and Wales), Children 1st and Parenting Northern Ireland all provide non-judgemental advice not only to couples who separate or divorce, but to family members too
    • Family Law Advice Centre offers essential advice to families who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland offering support with financial and child arrangement issues
    • The Scottish Child Law Centre in partnership with Parentline Scotland.
    • Citizens Advice offers invaluable advice to couples and parents who are separating or divorcing and provides information on important matters like child maintenance services

    If you are a lone parent and need financial help and support, there are services available which you can contact where you would find a sympathetic ear.

    Informative Links

    If you would like more information on how important the presence of a father can bring to a child, please follow the link below:

    Families Need Fathers

    If you would like more information on the legal implications of separating or divorcing from a partner, the following link provides essential reading on the topic:

    More information on the legal requirements for divorce

    If you need help finding a place to live, the following website provides valuable information on who to contact and who can help with your housing issues:

    Help and support with housing following separation or divorce