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Parenting After Separation – What To Do Before Telling Your Children

June 27, 2017


A family break-up can be a challenging, confusing, emotionally-charged and even chaotic time and it can be difficult to see a clear way forward.

However, once you have made the decision to separate, it will be hugely beneficial to everyone involved if you break things down into manageable, bite-size chunks.   By tackling things one step at a time, the situation won’t seem so overwhelming or insurmountable and you will be able to work out a way to progress.

Knowing when and how to tell your children about your decision to separate is undoubtedly one of the most important challenges of your separation, but one thing is for certain – the way that you handle the situation will have an enormous effect on how your children will cope with the changed circumstances.  The process is as painful for them as it is for you but they’re far more likely to manage if they feel loved, blameless, understood and protected.

With that in mind, you need to plan carefully about when, where and how you are going to break the news of your separation to your children.

Here are some things you need to put in place before you tell your children.

Support and guidance

Strong emotions like guilt, anger, remorse, fear, sadness and anxiety about the future can be overwhelming and may impact on your ability to think clearly and make rational decisions.  Those feelings are normal, but it is important that you look after your own emotional and physical well-being so that you’re in the best possible space to deal with the transition.

Support from friends and family can be invaluable but it’s important to get impartial advice, direction and guidance from professionals, like family lawyers and counsellors who can help you manage your emotions, clear confusion and separate emotions from the facts.

Establish the ‘new normal’ of your relationship

Parenting after separation can be challenging, but the reality is that you are both still parents to your children and are still child-raising partners.  The single biggest thing you can do to ease the transition to the ‘new normal’ is to find a way to work together.

Even though you may be experiencing strong emotions, it is really important to try to set feelings and differences aside and be mature and business-like as you establish your co-parenting arrangements.  It can be beneficial to treat meetings with your ex-partner like business meetings, with an agenda and a written record of what was agreed etc.

Work out the practicalities of your separation

Drawing up an action plan for the future will help to ease the family through the transition.  Again, making small steps, such as week by week agreements, will make the transition more manageable and less overwhelming.   Importantly, give your children as much stability in the early days/weeks as possible.

Things to consider include living arrangements, finances, education and when you are going to tell your children about your decision to separate.

Agree a plan of how to tell the children

The way that parents handle a family break-up and how they tell their children about their decision will have a huge impact on the way that the children cope and get on with their lives.  Before saying anything to the family, you need to sit down with your ex-partner and agree on a plan.  This will be a pivotal moment for the children and clarity is essential.


  • Be civil and respectful to one another
  • Keep it simple
  • Children will need lots of reassurance that you both still love them
  • They need to know that your decision to separate has nothing to do with them and that they are not to blame
  • Put yourself in their shoes and work out answers to questions they may ask. Remember, they need explanations in terms that they can understand and they need to be allowed to express their worries and their emotions.

Working out parenting arrangements after separation can be difficult and even more so when strong emotions are involved.   You will get probably get lots of well-intentioned support from friends and family, but separation is a time when you will also need impartial and qualified guidance, direction and information on the legalities involved and the best way forward.

If you feel that professional advice might help, it’s a good idea to get in touch with family lawyers before you tell your children about your separation as they will be able to make recommendations and advise and guide you on how to best navigate the process.

A respected family law firm such as Paterson & Dowding understands that your children are your primary focus and their experienced family law practitioners can advise and assist you with developing and planning the care arrangements for your children following your separation.   They have two offices of family lawyers in Perth and Joondalup and you can contact them on any aspect of divorce law or family law by phoning 08 9226 3300 or through their website, www.patersondowding.com.au.

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