Separation - Who makes the decison?

Question What rights do I have?

When your parents separate you have the right to:

  • Express your views and have them heard in matters that affect you.
  • Be treated with dignity, respect and fairness.
  • Be safe.
  • Live free from violence and abuse (this includes witnessing violence and abuse).
  • Be free from discrimination, harassment and bullying of any kind.
  • Trust that decisions made by your parents or guardians are in your best interests.

These rights, among others, are contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland signed up to in 1992). It provides many rights to all children and young people in order to protect them, promote their well-being and help them to develop their unique potential.

What about under Irish law?
Your parents have a legal duty for your upbringing and protection until you are 18, unless in exceptional situations this is not in your best interests. Separation does not generally change the legal duties your parents have towards you.

Sometimes families separate because of violence or abuse. If you have witnessed violence or abuse or been a victim, Get Help. Tell someone you trust or try one of the contacts listed in the Finding Help section below. You can also check out the domestic abuse section on this site.

Question What's the difference between separation and divorce?

AnswerOften described as ‘splitting up' or ‘breaking up', separation is when parents decide to end their couple relationship and live apart. It's not a once-off event, but a process of change and adjustment for a family that takes place over months or years.

If parents who separate are married, they might decide to obtain a divorce. This is a legal process that formally ends a marriage and allows either parent to re-marry at a future point. Not all parents who separate decide to divorce.

Question Can I have a say in decisions that relate to me?

AnswerYou have the right to have your say but your parents make the final decisions. Parents, with your input, will need to decide where you live, what school you go to and when you visit each parent after the separation. They may work this out between themselves or with the help of an independent person such as a family mediator. Sometimes parents choose to work with solicitors or they may go through the Family Law Courts. This usually happens when parents have different ideas on how to separate and are unable to agree.

You can be part of the discussions through your parents or your views may be sought directly by the Courts. You have a right to say as much or as little as you want. Your parents, or the Courts, will take your views into account before final decisions are made in your best interests.

If you would like more information about the ways parents can separate, check out Common Terms Explained.

Question Do I have to choose who I live with?

AnswerNo. You have the right not to have to choose between your parents. When parents separate it's an emotional time for everyone. At times you might feel protective of one parent or blame one for the separation.

quoteBut it's not about feeling you need to show ‘which parent you love more' or ‘saying what you think a parent wants to hear'. It's about decisions based on your needs and who is in the best position to meet those needs.

‘Because, like, you don't want to take sides because then you feel, like, the other person thinks you love the other, like, let's say I took my mam's side, my dad would probably feel that I loved her more, but I wouldn't.' (Girl, aged 16)

Question Is it fair to ask my parents to take my views on board?

AnswerpictureYes. Your parents will usually work out a plan that they think is best for you. However, they are more likely to make better decisions if they know what you are thinking and feeling. So discuss your views and ideas with them. If your parents don't ask, let them know if you want to have a say. Ask your parents to explain the reasons for their decisions to help you understand.

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