Ever wonder what your rights are when your parents divorce? See the "Bill of Rights" below, so you can let your parents know that kids have rights too! You can even hire your own lawyer if you feel your rights are not being protected.
If you're having a hard time dealing with parents splitting up, you're not alone! When parents separate, many kids and teens feel like their lives have been turned upside down. You may have questions about what's going on and what you can do about it. Or, you may have questions about what it means for you and your family.
Take a few minutes to do our quiz and know that we're here to help if you need us! These are all questions that real kids and teens have asked us before.
Sometimes young people blame themselves for their parents decisions. We've been asked questions like: "If I didn't always get in trouble, would Mom and Dad still be together?" or "If I were nicer to my brother, would Mom and Dad stop fighting?"
We've spoken to thousands of young people and their parents. When parents split up, it's NEVER, EVER a kid's fault. In fact, many marriages without kids don't work out. Don't blame yourself! Marriages break up because the adults can't get along anymore.
Some young people find it really scary and sad when their parents say they don't love each other anymore. We've had kids ask us things like: "If Mom and Dad can stop loving each other, they can stop loving me too?" This is simply NOT TRUE.
When parents can't get along anymore, they sometimes say they don't love each other anymore. The truth is, they usually still do care about each other, but their feelings are just too hurt to stay married. Sometimes, parents are so hurt that they fight and say hurtful things that they don't mean. But no matter how upset parents are with each other, we've NEVER, EVER met parents who stopped loving their kids!
Sometimes young people worry that if their parents separate, they won't have a family anymore. That's not true! You will ALWAYS have a family. Mom will ALWAYS be your Mom. Dad will ALWAYS be your Dad. Your family won't look quite the same as it did before, but there are all kinds of different families out there. Just because you don't all live in the same house, doesn't mean you're not still a family.
A lot of the time, young people worry that if their parents separate, they won't have a house anymore. Sometimes, you may need to move to a different home. But no matter what, you will ALWAYS have a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in, even if it's in a different home than the one you grew up in. When parents split up, some kids and teens even get an extra home and a room to put their stuff.
If you have to move (you might not have to!), you'll take your stuff with you. Your parents might even buy you more toys and other things, because you might have a bedroom in Mom's home and a bedroom in Dad's too. For some, that's two homes, with two warm beds, and two sets of toys and clothes!
Have you ever been in a bad mood and said something mean about someone when you didn't really mean it? We all have, even though it's not nice, and it's not fair.
When parents separate, their feelings are hurt because they've lived together as a team for so long. Remember: When parents say mean things about each other, you DON'T have to listen because it's not how they really feel!
If one or both of your parents are saying bad things about each other, try to sit them down at a calmer time to tell them politely what's bothering you and what you want. If you're not comfortable speaking directly to Mom or Dad, you can write them a letter. For example, if Mom is saying mean things about Dad, you can say (or write) something like this (you can even copy our words if you're having trouble!):
"Mom, sometimes you say things that aren't nice about Dad. When you do this, I feel depressed and I often go to my room to cry. You're both my parents and I love you both. I don't want to feel like I have to take sides. Please don't say anything bad about Dad in front of me. This will make me feel A LOT better."
If Mom or Dad don't listen, you can call or email us to talk about it and we'll try to help. You can also talk to your teacher or guidance counselor at school, or ask your parents to call a psychologist for you; these are people whose job it is to help kids and teens just like you.
Sometimes when parents split up, young people feel like they have to make a choice about who to love. It's like when friends get into a fight and ask you to pick sides. This is not fair!
You DON'T have to be on anybody's side! Even if Mom and Dad are mad at each other, that doesn't mean that you have to be mad at one of them too. You have your OWN thoughts and feelings! You have your OWN relationships with Mom and Dad, which are separate from their relationship with each other. You DON'T ever have to pick sides.
Sometimes, parents can't agree on "custody" (which parent you'll be living with and when), so they go to court so that the Judge can decide. The Judge's job is to decide if you will live only with Mom, only with Dad, or sometimes with Mom and sometimes with Dad. Sometimes, the Judge will also help decide what school and activities you go to. The Judge's job is to do what he or she thinks is best for you.
You may have an opinion about what is best for you. What you think, feel, and want is important! If you know what you want, you should first try to tell your parents. They love you and want what's best for you.
If you think that your parents aren't listening, you have the legal right to tell the Judge anything you want. If the Judge knows what you want, he or she will use this information to help make the decision. To talk to the Judge, you need a lawyer just for you. Call or email us and we'll do our best to help.
NO! It's totally normal to feel upset after your parents separate. Kids and teens have told us they felt sad, mad, guilty, worried, hopeless, numb and even scared. You're going through a major change in your life and it's okay to have strong feelings about it.
It's helpful to talk about what's going on with people in your life who care about you. Remember: You're not alone!
If you feel sad or worried most of the time, if you feel out of control, or if you are thinking about hurting yourself, please get help! Talk to your teacher or guidance counselor at school, your family doctor, or ask your parents to call a therapist or psychologist for you. These are people whose only job it is to help people like you!
If you're not ready to talk to people you know, you can also call Kids Help Phone for free at 1-800-668-6868 or 514-273-7007. If you're thinking of hurting yourself, please tell an adult, call 9-1-1 or call Suicide Action Montréal at 1-866-277-3553 or 514-723-400. If someone is hurting you, please tell an adult or call 9-1-1. You don't have to keep feeling this way -- there are people who can help you!
People you can talk to:
It's also important to take good care of yourself during this stressful time. Remember to eat right, have good sleep habits and exercise. It's also helpful to do things you enjoy, like seeing friends, listening to or playing music, playing video games, dancing, sports, art, walking the dog...
Even though things may seem bad now, it DOES get better. Bad times and bad feelings do not last forever. They drift by, just like storm clouds. One day, these clouds will pass, and you'll feel better again.
Every kid has rights, particularly when mom and dad are splitting up. Here are some things your parents should never forget --- and you should never let them --- when your family is in the midst of a break-up.
You have the right to love both your parents. You also have the right to be loved by both of them. That means you should not feel guilty about wanting to see your dad or your mom at any time. It is important for you to have both your parents in your life, particularly during difficult times such during their break-up. Your parents may want to separate, but they will always be your dad and mom, and sometimes it is a good idea to remind them of this fact!
You do not have to choose one parent over the other. If you have an opinion about which parent you want to live with, let it be known. But nobody can force you to make that choice. If your parents can't work it out, a judge may make the decision for them.
You are entitled to all the feelings you are having. Do not be embarrassed by what you are feeling. It is scary when your parents break up, and you are allowed to be scared. Or angry. Or sad. Or disappointed.
You have the right to live in a safe environment. This means that nobody is allowed to put you in danger, either physically or emotionally. If one of your parents is hurting you, tell someone --- either your other parent or a trusted adult like a teacher or the school nurse.
You do not belong in the middle of your parents fight. Sometimes your parents may get so caught up in their own problems that they forget that you are just a kid, and that you cannot handle their adult problems. If they start putting you in the middle of their dispute, remind them that it is their fight, not yours.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are still part of your life. Even if you are living with one parent, you can still visit with your relatives on your other parent's side of the family. You will always be a part of their lives, even if your parents are not together anymore.
You have the right to be a child. Kids should not worry about adult problems. Concentrate on your studies, your homework, your friends, your activities, etc. Your mom and dad just need your love. They can handle the rest, because they are grown-ups!
You have the right to an attorney. A kid who is 12 years old or older has the right to hire a lawyer to communicate his point of view to the Court, when there is a debate about custody or taking out rights. Ask for help at your school if you would like to have some advice from a lawyer, or if you would like to speak to the judge who will decide with whom you will live. Remember it is the judge who will decide, not you, but your thoughts and feelings can guide the judge in his decision.
YOUR PARENTS' SEPARATION IS NOT YOUR FAULT, AND DON'T BLAME YOURSELF.
Special Concerns of Children Committee, March, 1998