What happens next? Information for kids about separation and divorce

Chapter Three: Decisions, decisions, decisions

Mohamed’s in the middle

Mohamed’s parents never agreed on anything. They argued about doing housework, cooking dinner and paying bills. And they argued about everything else too. When they separated, Mohamed hoped the arguments would stop.

His parents wrote their own plan for what would happen after the separation. No court, no fuss. Mohamed’s mom bought a house close to the school and Mohamed lived one week with her and one week with his dad.

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

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

His mom phoned her lawyer. She wanted to be the one in charge of taking care of Mohamed and she wanted Mohamed to live with her most of the time.

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

"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 my mom’s feelings but she’s too strict," he told the counsellor.

The counsellor had a meeting first with Mohamed’s mom, then with his dad, and talked a lot with Mohamed. Finally, Mohamed’s parents went back to see the judge.

The living arrangements stayed the same as before, but the judge asked both parents to think carefully about how they were treating Mohamed. The judge wanted them to get help to stop putting Mohamed in the middle of their arguments. After a while, Mohamed’s parents were able to think about his feelings instead of their own all the time. Mohamed was relieved when he could just enjoy the time he had with his dad and his mom.

Nela is not just a babysitter

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

When Nela’s mom told her that she and Ivan were going to have a new baby, Nela 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. Nela didn’t get to see her mom alone anymore. "Things will get back to normal, honey. Just give us a bit of time. Eva is pretty cute, eh? She just needs more of my time right now," her mom would say.

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

Nela’s dad noticed that Nela no longer wanted to stay with her mom. "Maybe I can help sort things out," he told her when Nela explained. Nela’s dad called up her mom to talk to her about Nela’s concerns.

Nela was worried about whether her mom’s feelings would be hurt or that she might be angry that Nela told her dad about what was happening. But Nela’s mom told her that she loved her and would try to spend more time with her. After that, Nela felt much better.

Some people think that when you’re 12 or even 14 you can decide where you will live. That is not what the law says, but your thoughts and feelings are important.

As explained earlier, if your parents go to court, the judge will make the final decisions about things like where you will live in a court order. The judge must consider what is best for you when making the court order. This will include considering your thoughts and feelings about where you will live.

Your parents 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.

In Canada, kids have a right to share their views on issues that affect them.

Lots of parents are able to make plans for their kids after separation and divorce without a judge or mediator. Your parents may ask you about your views to help them figure out what will be best for you. This doesn’t mean you need to choose between your parents or get involved in their decisions.

When parents aren’t able to come up with a plan on their own, judges and mediators may want to hear kids’ views. This helps them make better plans for kids and families. A judge, lawyer or social worker could ask you about your life and what is important to you.

Depending on where you live in Canada, there are different ways that people may ask your views.

Sometimes judges meet with kids. A judge might ask specific questions about your life. Or they might just have a chat to get to know a bit about you. This sort of meeting often happens in the judge’s office.

Sometimes, a social worker or lawyer will ask you questions so they can prepare a report to give to a judge or mediator. This type of report is often called a Voice of the Child Report.

The social worker or lawyer will usually ask about your thoughts and feelings. There may be some questions about how you feel about your parents’ separation. The social worker or lawyer may ask you what you like best about each of your parent’s homes. They will be careful to avoid questions that would make you uncomfortable.

It can make you feel better to talk to someone who really wants to listen to you and understand how you’re feeling. Your views are important and they might help shape plans for your family, even if you don’t get to choose what happens.

Emma shares her views

Emma is very close to both her moms, Laura and Jen. The two of them have been unhappy together for a while now though. They’ve decided to get a divorce. Jen plans to move to an apartment downtown that is closer to her office and also to Emma’s school.
Laura and Jen hope that a mediator can help them figure out a schedule for Emma, because they both want to spend as much time with Emma as possible.

The mediator suggests they get a Voice of the Child Report for Emma. The mediator tells them this will mean that a social worker would meet with Emma a couple of times to hear how Emma is feeling about the situation. The social worker would write up a report, review it with Emma, and then share it with the mediator and Emma’s moms.

At first Emma feels nervous about talking to the social worker. She doesn’t want to share all her personal thoughts and feelings with a stranger. When she meets the social worker though, Emma feels a lot more comfortable. He’s funny and listens really well. Emma is relieved to be able to share her views without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings.

After going over his report with Emma, the social worker shares it with the mediator, Laura and Jen. Emma is happy to know that her views were heard and will be considered.

What is a parenting assessment?

If your parents can't agree on where you will live, the judge can order a parenting assessment. A parenting 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 decisions for you.

The person doing the parenting assessment will talk to few different people, including your parents, other people involved in your family’s life and even you. You might talk to them 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.

The person doing the parenting assessment 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:

Then, they will suggest to the judge where you should live and what your schedule for seeing your parents should be.

If you have brothers or sisters, the arrangement for you may not be the same as theirs. Older kids may need different things than younger kids. As you get older, your arrangement may need to change again.

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 may want more 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 they are doing is upsetting.

Talk to someone who can help you, like your other parent, a grand-parent 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!"

When the twins’ parents first separated, both parents wanted Chen and Jiao to live with them. Their parents lived a block apart, so they decided to have them spend one night with their dad, the next night with their mom. Their mom helped coach softball. Their dad took them to art classes at the community centre. It was better than being separated from each other. Chen and Jiao 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 favourite toys. Our feet are really sore from carrying them all from one house to the other every day," complained nine-year old Jiao. Chen agreed.

There was no time to see their friends. Jiao 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? Chen got in trouble at school when he kept losing his school books. Chen’s teacher noticed that things weren’t going well and spoke to their dad. Then he spoke to their mom. In the end, the parents agreed that spending a week with one parent followed by a week with the other would be easier for everyone.

Why did the jellybean go to school?

Answer: To become a smartie.