Although some parents work out the details of their break-up amicably with minimal involvement of courts and lawyers, others seek legal counsel to help them resolve their disputes. Regardless of your situation, use caution when referring to legal matters surrounding the separation or divorce in front of your children.
As their family has been their whole world to a child, hearing parents talk about custody and access, separation agreements, mediation, divorce, courts, and the law can be frightening for kids. Younger children may not understand why it is necessary to formalize a separation or divorce, or why “the law” needs to be involved. Preteens and teens, or children with friends who have experienced parental separation or divorce, may be especially sensitive to the thought of their parents taking legal action against one another, beyond normal feelings of fear of loss.
Handle conversations with your children about the law and separation or divorce with sensitivity – the finality of the break-up may “hit home” for many children once legal matters start being discussed. Be understanding of their fears, and answer their questions in a caring and supportive way.
Having awareness about the law involved in a separation or divorce will help children understand that the laws are in place to protect the rights of everyone involved – parents and children.
The law sections of the Kids Guide and Teen Guide are excellent resources that clearly explain to children the legal process surrounding separation and divorce. They learn what it means to separate or divorce, and the difference between the two. Key words are also offered to give children an understanding of what their parents mean when they discuss custody, access, child support, mediation, separation agreements, and divorce. The difference between common-law and marital relationships is also explained, as well as the fact that the same custody and access laws apply to both.
The laws surrounding separation and divorce can be intimidating for parents too. There are a number of websites that have information about the legal processes involved in ending both common law and marital relationships in Ontario. For example, CLEO, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ontario Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada, and the Department of Justice Canada, as well as other community organizations and agencies.