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Relationship breakdown and divorce

3-minute read

When a relationship breaks down, it can be a distressing time for everyone involved. As well as dealing with your own emotions, you might be worried about supporting your child too. But while it can be an extremely difficult time, there are things you can do to help you all through it.

When a relationship doesn’t work

If you’re part of a couple that’s separating or divorcing, you may be experiencing a range of very strong emotions, from anger to fear, confusion, guilt and rejection.

Despite the complexities of separation, most people manage to work their way through it and go on to lead fulfilling lives.

It’s important to realise that you can be a successful parent, regardless of your family circumstances.

Looking after yourself

To help you support your child through this difficult time, you first need to look after yourself.

  • If you’re feeling helpless, think of all the things you can do to regain control of your life, and write them down. Which ones will help you most in the long term? Ask a friend if you need to.
  • Talk to your friends and family — keeping up a social life can help you work through your grief.
  • Do things that make you feel better — go for a walk, take a long bath, listen to relaxing music.
  • See a counsellor if you find yourself struggling with strong emotions.
  • See a doctor if you are concerned about your mental health.
  • Be patient — it takes time to heal.

Telling your child

Telling your child about separation is not easy, and needs to be done sensitively. It’s a good idea to do this before you and your partner separate, and to choose a time when you are both composed and can present a united front.

Try to explain simply the reasons why you are separating, and try not to blame anyone. Acknowledge that it will be hard, but there may be positives too.

Important things for your child to know include:

  • that you will always be their parents and will always love them
  • they are not to blame
  • there’s nothing they can do to change things

Your child may react in a variety of ways, such as surprise, grief or fear. It’s OK for them to express their feelings and talk about them. Remember, this will be a stressful time for them too, so it’s a good idea to keep reassuring them and letting them know they are loved.

Sorting out shared care

It can be difficult to decide where your child will live, and how living arrangements are to be shared. If your child is very young, you and your partner will need to decide for them. But if they are old enough to express their thoughts and feelings, their wishes should be taken into account.

If you need help, you may like to consult a counsellor or mediator, who can help you draw up a parenting plan. If you and your partner just can’t agree, or there are concerns about the safety of your child, the Family Court may need to get involved.

Where to go for help

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. You can:

  • ask your doctor for advice and a referral for counselling
  • contact a counselling service such as Relationships Australia
  • call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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