What happens next? Information for kids about separation and divorce

Chapter Three: Decisions, decisions, decisions

Greta’s in the middle

Greta’s parents never agreed on anything. Her dad liked rock music; her mom liked country. Her dad was into motorcycles; her mom was into business. And they argued about everything else too. When they split up, Greta hoped the arguments would stop.

Her parents wrote their own separation agreement. No court, no fuss. Greta’s mom bought a house close to the school and Greta lived one week with her and one week with her dad.

After the separation, her dad stayed in the old house and started his own motorcycle repair shop out back. Greta loved hanging out there with him.

Then one day Greta’s dad let her ride his Harley on the back roads all by herself. Excited, Greta told her mom all about it. Her mom got mad. "What kind ­of a parent is he anyway? You could have been killed!" she exclaimed.

Her mom phoned her lawyer. She wanted sole custody*.

This time, Greta’s dad and mom met with a judge and arrangements were made for Greta to talk to a counsellor. It was good to have someone to talk to about how strict her mom was and how cool her dad was. She was tired of being in the middle of their arguments about her.

"I plan to race motorbikes when I grow up. I should live with my dad, because he’ll let me do what I want. I don’t want to hurt mom’s feelings but she’s too strict," she told the counsellor.

The counsellor had a meeting first with Greta’s mom, then with her dad, and talked a lot with Greta. Finally, Greta’s parents went back to see the judge. Greta’s mom didn’t get sole custody. Greta didn’t go to live with just her dad either.

The living arrangements stayed the same as before, but the judge asked both parents to think carefully about how they were treating Greta. The judge wanted them to get help to stop putting Greta in the middle of their arguments.

After a while, Greta’s parents were able to think about her feelings instead of their own all the time. Greta was relieved when she could just enjoy the time she had with her dad and her mom.

Marie is not just a babysitter

Soon after Marie’s parents split up, her dad married Carole. Marie stayed with her mom. Her dad moved in with Carole and Carole’s two younger children. All that first year, Marie’s dad made sure he spent time with her alone, even if they just went for a walk around the neighbourhood. Marie was 10 then. "No matter what happens, I’m here for you," her dad told her.

When Marie’s dad told her that he and Carole were going to have a new baby, Marie signed up for a babysitting course at school. She was so excited about having a sister at last.

After her new baby sister was born, things changed. Marie didn’t get to see her dad alone anymore. "Things will get back to normal, honey. Just give us a bit of time. Eva is pretty cute, eh? She just needs some extra time right now," her dad would say.

When Marie was 12, things changed again. Whenever she went over to stay with her dad, he would suggest Carole and he needed a break from the kids. At first, Marie was pretty proud of being left alone with them. But after three months of babysitting and never spending time with her dad, she got tired of it. Her dad didn’t even know that she was on the champion soccer team. There was no time to talk with him.

Marie’s mom noticed that Marie no longer wanted to stay with her dad. "Maybe we can do something, honey," she told her daughter when Marie explained. Marie’s mom called up her dad to talk to him about Marie’s concerns. Marie’s dad wanted her to be happy so he agreed to make a few changes. Marie was happy that it all worked out in the end and she could spend more time with her dad.

When you're 12 or even when you're 14, you don't get to decide where you want to live, although your thoughts and feelings will likely be considered.

As explained earlier, the judge will make the final decision in a court order. The judge must consider your best interests when making the court order.

This is nearly always a good thing because you might want things a certain way when you're eight years old, only to find out that as you grow older you want things to be different.

Your parents were two different people before they split up. They are still different people now. They may have different ideas about how to raise you. You may like one parent's rules better, but rules aren't the only things that matter. Your parents care about you even if they look at things differently. You don't have to choose between them and then feel guilty about it.

The important thing is that your family figures out where you will live and what's best for you and what works for your family. And remember, it's possible for either of your parents to ask a judge to change the court order after a while, if it would be in your best interests.

What are counsellors and assessors?

If your parents can't agree on where you will live, the judge can order an assessment. An assessment can give the judge a clearer picture of what your life is like with each parent. The idea is to make sure that the judge makes the best decision for you.

You might talk to a counsellor (or assessor) a few times. Many of them like to speak with children more than once to make sure they understand how the family works together. Maybe they'll ask you to play a game of cards or checkers or ask you to draw a picture of what your family is like.

Counsellors will write reports based on what they learn about you and your family life. They look at the whole picture and try to be fair. Here are some of the things they look at:

  • your parents' work schedules
  • which parent helps you with school, sports or homework
  • who looks after you when you're sick
  • the plans your parents have made for your care
  • the schedule that works best for all of you.

Then, the counsellor will suggest to the judge where you should live and what your schedule for seeing your other parent should be.

The arrangement for your brother may not be the same as the one you have. If he is 17 and has a part-time job, his needs will be different from yours. As you get older, your arrangement may need to change again.

It can take a long time for all these meetings to take place — maybe several months. While you wait, try not to worry.

Arrangements can be changed if the situation changes. When you're older, for instance, you may not want to spend a month at your grandparents' cottage or two weeks camping with your uncle and aunt along with one of your parents. You will need time with friends or to work at a summer job.

Speak out when things go wrong

It's tough to tell an adult that what he or she is doing is upsetting.

Talk to someone who can help you, like a grand­parent or your favourite teacher. If you feel it might be a bad idea to speak to one of your parents, pay attention to your feelings. Maybe you need to wait until you've found the right time to talk to them, or until you've found the right person to talk to.

"Our feet are sore!" agree the twins

When the twins’ parents first separated, both parents wanted Monica and Reg to live with them. Their parents lived a block apart, so they decided to have them spend one night with dad, the next night with mom. Mom helped coach softball. Dad took them to art classes at the community centre. It was better than being split up like the twins in the movie, The Parent Trap, where each twin lives with one of the parents. Monica and Reg were close and couldn’t imagine being apart. Even so, they got tired of the arrangement their parents had made.

"We’ve got our suitcases and our school books and our dog Hero. Our feet are really sore from carrying them all from one house to the other every day," complained nine-year old Monica. Reg agreed.

There was no time to see their friends. Monica was afraid she wouldn’t be able to play softball because she often forgot where her stuff was. Would she be kicked off the team? Reg got in trouble at school when he kept losing his school books. Reg’s teacher noticed that things weren’t going well and spoke to Reg’s dad. Then he spoke to Reg’s mom. In the end, the parents agreed that spending a week with one followed by a week with the other would be easier for everyone.

Why did the jellybean go to school?

Answer: To become a smartie.

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