Dealing with divorce and custody

Coming to terms with a divorce and the fact that your family is changing is really tough, but there are things you can do to help clarify your feelings about what’s happened. And although custody agreements can be uncomfortable or difficult to understand, there are things you can do which can help you through these tricky times.

This can help if:

  • your family is going through a break-up

  • you’re worried about custody agreements

  • you want to know what you can do to make sense of the divorce.

Boy looking sad with mother

Everything’s changing

When your family breaks up, it’s hard for everyone involved. It might have happened after a long period of fighting and feeling miserable, or maybe it occurred so suddenly you can only wonder, ‘WTF just happened?’

There’s emotional fall-out

As your family relationships change, there will be a lot to adjust to. Everyone will have their own response to what’s happening, from feeling deeply upset to even feeling a sense of relief. If you feel angry with someone in particular, that’s okay - it’s a normal emotion that you’ll need to work through.

Your parents are fighting

If your parents are arguing and fighting more often, they may seem distracted, like they don’t have any time for you. Whatever’s happening between them, remember that it doesn’t change the way they feel about you.

Your life is disrupted

Often a family break-up means moving back and forth between your parents’ separate places. Having to spread your clothes, things and time between two places can be challenging and even annoying. You may just want to have the space you’re used to, but feel like you have no say in the matter.

How to make sense of a family break-up

Adjusting to a family separation takes time and negotiation. If you have questions about what’s happening, pick a time when no one is upset or emotional. It’s perfectly okay to talk about your own feelings and needs. It’s not uncommon to have someone from outside the family help with these conversations.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Ask your parent or parents to explain why they’ve decided to stop living together.

  • Let your parents know what your preferred living situation is.

  • Ask them not to talk to you about their problems with each other.

  • Try to maintain your relationship with both of them separately.

  • Talk to other family members about how you feel.

  • If you are struggling, you can ask to talk to someone outside the situation, such as a school counsellor, youth worker or psychologist.


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Custody stuff

When your parents divorce, decisions will be made about ‘custody’ and where you live.

What custody arrangements are possible?

One of your parents may have sole custody, or custody may be shared between both. You may live with one parent most of the time, and visit the other (access visits) for a certain number of days per week, fortnight or month.

Who makes these arrangements?

Sometimes these arrangements are decided by the parents alone, and sometimes with the help of the Family Court. When the Family Court is involved, the child’s view is taken into account. The older you are, the more say you’ll have as to where you live.

What if you don’t like an arrangement?

If you’re unhappy about a custody arrangement, talk to a trusted adult and find out what your alternatives are. Sometimes talking to a professional who’s not personally involved with your family, such as a counsellor or psychologist, can give you a clearer picture of what other options you have.

What can I do now?

  • Tell your parents what your preferred living situation is.

  • Take time out for yourself to process your thoughts.