What happens next? Information for kids about separation and divorce

Chapter One: Everything is changing

The family

Families are different all over the world. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. No matter what your family looks like, it's your family and it's important to you. Anytime there are big changes in a family it affects all the members of that family. This means you too!

The legal picture

Separation* and divorce* are all about change.

But here are some things that won't change: your parents still care about you, and they still have to take care of you.

Taking care of you includes giving you affection and love, and also making decisions about where you go to school, what you can do after school and taking you to the doctor when you are sick.

If your parents were legally married, they need to go through a legal process to get a divorce. After they get the divorce, they won't be married to each other anymore.

One or both of your parents may get married again after they divorce, or they may find another person to live with. If that happens, you may become part of a new family. Even with all these changes, your parents are still your parents. They still have to look out for you until you are grown up.

Separation means your parents live in different places — a different house or apartment and sometimes in a different city, province or even a different country.

No matter where they live, they will have to work out a parenting arrangement* for you.

There are many ways your parents could come up with a parenting arrangement. No matter how they come up with the arrangement, it will say where you're going to live and it may spell out your schedule, who is going to pay for what, who will take you to sports practice, sign your report card or meet you off the bus and stay with you when you're sick.

Parenting arrangements are usually written down in a parenting agreement* or they can be part of a court order* made by a judge*.

There are lots of terms used in parenting agreements and court orders. In some provinces and territories, the words custody* and access* are used. In other provinces and territories, words like care and control, guardianship, parenting time and contact are used. Each of these terms has its own meaning. In this booklet we will use the terms custody and access because those are the words used in the Divorce Act*.

Another thing that won't change after your parents separate — they will still be responsible for paying for things you need, like food, clothing, and a place to live.

This means that your parents will have to work out a way to pay for these things now that they aren't living in the same place. The money one parent pays to your other parent to spend on taking care of you is called child support*.

It doesn't matter if your parents were married, living together or living in two different places, there are laws in Canada to make sure that child support is paid. Sometimes a parent doesn't pay the child support they are supposed to. This can cause problems. There are special offices across Canada that will help your parents to solve that problem if it comes up. You don't have to worry about being involved in this. It is up to parents to deal with this. Try not to worry about it.

Court

Your parents may have to go to court if they can't agree on a parenting arrangement or on how much child support needs to be paid. (You probably won't have to go to court at all; most kids don't.)

To get ready for court, your parents may each hire their own lawyer to give them advice and prepare the right documents for court. Family law lawyers are people who help parents work out problems about separation and divorce. These lawyers are trained to understand family law and help parents understand how family law affects them.

The court documents can be about one or many topics. For example, they may be about getting a divorce, or setting up a parenting arrangement for you and your brothers and sisters. They could also be about money or other things your parents will have to deal with now that they don't live together.

Lawyers may also help each parent prepare affidavits* that describe what has happened in your family. Each parent tells the story from their own point of view.

Going through the court process may take a long time. In real life, courts are not the same as courts you see on television. For example, in a small town the courtroom may be a room in a church or in a community centre. No matter what the courtroom looks like, there are certain rules that must be followed.

In most places in Canada, when your parents first go to court they will have to meet a judge. In other places the first step in the court process might be for parents to meet a family law professional. The name used for these professionals is different across Canada. They could be called a mediator, counsellor, or dispute resolution officer. Whatever they're called, they will try to help your parents come to an agreement about their separation or divorce.

If your parents still can't agree after meeting with a family law professional, their lawyers will each talk to a judge. In these situations, the judge makes the final decisions about parenting arrangements, support payments and where you will live. These decisions are written in a court order. The judge's decision may not be the one you want but it will be made in your best interests*.

Farah's story

Eight months after Farah was born, her dad went back up north and Farah and her mom began their lives together without him.

All that happened so long ago that Farah only remembers living with her mom. Her dad sends some money to help pay the rent on their apartment, for daycare while her mom is working, and some money for food, clothing and the other things Farah needs like dental care. Every few months, Farah sees her dad. If she’s lonely for him, she can call him. She always loves it when he calls her.

But things get difficult when he doesn’t send the money on time and her mom starts worrying about money. Lucky for everyone that her mom and dad work this out themselves.

In some places in Canada, when ­parents can't agree on parenting arrangements, a judge may decide that someone should make a rec­om­mendation about the parenting arrangement that would be in your best interests. An assessor*, a social worker*, a psychologist* or a psychiatrist* usually makes these recommendations. They may ask to talk to you. If they do, it will give you a chance to tell someone how you see things.

Remember…

  • Your parents can't live together anymore, but they still care about you.
  • Parents may have a hard time talking and listening to one another after they split up.
  • It isn't your job to try to make them happy.
  • There may be confusion and even arguments all around you during all this.
  • It may seem like it's all about you, but the real trouble is between your parents.

What kind of clothing does a house wear?

Answer: Address


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