Parenting through a separation

Breaking up is hard to do – and it’s even harder when children are involved.
Parenting through separation

When kids are in the middle of a break-up things can get tricky – it’s not easy being a great parent when you are on an emotional rollercoaster.

But it is also important to remember your children are going through a tough time too, and what is going to happen to them now that your relationship with their other parent is over is going to involve lots of decisions you need to make with your ex.

It’s best for everyone if the two of you can sit down and work out arrangements for the children. If you can’t, you may need to get the Family Court involved. It can arrange free counselling with an independent person who can help you work through any difficulties you are having making arrangements. Important things to bear in mind include:

  • Letting the children see as much of both parents as possible.

  • Making sure they can keep up their relationships with extended family.

  • Trying to make as few changes as possible, especially in the early days.

The Ministry of Justice has a parenting plan that couples can use as a guideline to help them make arrangements. As well as including schedules to help with planning, it suggests day-to-day issues that need to be discussed. These include matters such as:

  • Who is responsible for getting the kids to their extracurricular activities?

  • What happens when the kids are sick?

  • Who will do most of the liaising with the school?

  • How you will deal with occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day?

  • How will things be paid for, such as childcare, school fees, other educational expenses and big items such as bikes and computers?

How you sort out the new arrangements depends on a variety of factors, including the reasons for the split. The age of your kids can also be crucial to the way you handle things.



A few days away from either parent feels like a long time for a baby or toddler. So they can build a strong bond with you both, it is a good idea for them to see the other parent after three or four days, even just for a short visit to do routine things like playing or having a bath. Toddlers are naturally clingy so changeover times may be stressful. Having one parent dropping them off at the place they’ll be spending the next few days may be easier than the other parent arriving to take them away from where they have been.


(FIVE TO 12)**

At this age children are used to being separated from their parents for periods of time, but they may still find changeovers upsetting and have bouts of missing the absent parent. Some kids will be happy to spend equal amounts of time with both parents while others may prefer to have one home base and regular visits to the other parent. You may have to experiment to find out what works best.


They usually want to have a say in how they spend their time with each parent. You should consider their need to assert their independence and factor in their social life. This may be the time when teens who have divided their time equally between their parents decide they’d rather have one home base as it is easier to manage their complicated lives that way.


The Ministry of Justice runs free programmes called Parenting Through Separation to help parents who are splitting up assist their kids. The programme is four hours long and designed for people who have separated or are thinking about it. Information on offer includes how separation affects children, what children need and how the Family Court works. The programme is available at 170 centres throughout the country – see for more details.

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