What is Divorce and Separation?

Most parents expect, or hope, to be together forever when they decide to have children, but sadly things don’t always work out that way.

Your parents could have made the decision to separate for many different reasons. While it is sometimes hard to understand – and we might not think it’s the best thing for them to do – it’s important to realise that it’s their decision.

People can separate after being together for many years, early on in a relationship, or sometimes even before their children are born.

Depending on how they feel and what causes the break-up, it can happen very quickly, or take a very long time.

If your parents are married they may decide to legally divorce, and with any separation, decisions will need to be made about the family home and where everyone will live.

Often parents will try to resolve any problems and sort out their differences before they make the difficult choice to split up but sadly, this isn’t always possible.

Your parents may be able to remain friends, or they may find this too difficult, depending on what lead to them wanting to end their relationship.

The process of parents splitting up looks very different for every family, because every family is special and different.

Understanding divorce

If your parents are married, they may be looking to ‘divorce’, which means legally ending their marriage.

The legal process of divorce can happen at the same time as your parents splitting up, or it can happen after. For example, they may choose to stop living together before they start the process to divorce legally.

At any time before, during or after the legal process, your parents may also seek help from professionals to work out any issues and the arrangements for the future, such as what will happen to the house and any shared property like the family car, or other things in the home.

Understanding Separation

The phrase ‘separation’ is also used when couples split up, as not all parents are married or decide to go through a legal divorce.

Your parents may be in a very long-term relationship and living together, or they may not have known each other very long when they had you – the decision to separate rather than divorce doesn’t depend on the length of the relationship.

If your parents are not married when they split up, they may choose to work out any issues and agree on the family’s future on their own, or they could also seek help from professionals.

Whether your parents choose to divorce or separate, remember that your family will always be your family, even if things have to work a little differently after their relationship has ended.

Children Don’t Cause Divorce or Separation

Parents split up for lots of reasons and it’s important to know that their divorce or separation isn’t your fault.

It’s very easy to believe that your parents unhappiness is because of you, but it isn’t, I promise.

Brianna, 16

Some couples have so many problems in their relationship that they can’t seem to fix. They may fight, say mean things to each other, or stop talking. Sometimes they meet someone else who they want to be with instead of your mum or your dad, so they make the decision to leave.


It took me a while to realise that I was never going to be able to control what my parents did. I could never have changed what happened because they’re each their own person, just as I am mine.

Kay, 16

At times you might feel like you are to blame, or that you could have done something to help keep your parents together. But the reality is that the decision to separate or divorce is made by your parents alone – you can’t control what they do and you can’t be held responsible for their actions.

See also: It’s not your fault.

Don’t let your parents drag you into their disputes. Be as supportive as you can without taking sides or getting too involved, because it can become very messy.

Oli, 17

Can I Fix It?

While you love your parents and probably hate the thought of them not being together, remember it’s not up to you to try and fix their relationship.

Talking to them about what’s happening is important, but try not to get too involved with their decision to split up, or take any sides while they are in the process of becoming separated or divorced.

See also: Talking with my parents.

Your Voice

Remember that while this is a difficult situation, you’re not alone. Sadly, one in three young people in the UK will experience their parents splitting up before they reach their 16th birthday, so it’s more common than you might think.

Whichever way your parents decide to split up, they – and any professionals involved in your future – should always keep your best interests at heart.

Our article Who will listen? has suggestions of people you may be able to talk to about what’s happening in your life, and how you’re feeling about your parents break up.

Where Can I Find Help?

If you need someone to talk with and would like support from our partners, The Mix, use our interactive tool to find more content, a freephone helpline, online forums, apps and more: