Some people grow up with their parents living apart, and some people’s parents get divorced or separated when they are older. If you are under 18, then you have the right to see both of your parents, even when they live apart.
Your parents will probably arrange a way for them both to see you if they get divorced so that you stay with one parent during the week and see the other one at weekends, or maybe you spend school term time with one parent and the holidays with the other parent. Every family is different.
What are my rights if my parents get separated?
Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that you can’t be separated from your parents against your will and that you need to be involved in decisions about how and when you see your parents if they live in different places. Your best interests should be central to decisions about who you live with.
The only exception to this rule is if your parent might cause you harm, either through neglecting your needs, hurting you, or putting you in danger.
If one of your parents lives in another country, Article 10 of the UNCRC says that you have a right to see them too and that countries should allow you or the parent living abroad to visit each other and keep in touch.
What happens if things don’t go smoothly?
Sometimes parents can find it hard to make the decision about which parent you live with most of the time, and when the other parent gets to see you. They might need help from a mediator who is someone who acts as a go-between for different people to help them make this decision.
If that still doesn’t work, your parents might have to go to court for a judge to make the decision for them. You will get support from social workers or the courts to have your voice heard as part of this process. The decision the judge makes is called a Court Order.
Childline has lots of great information on coping with divorce and you can talk to them if you have questions or need support.
What if I don’t want to see a parent?
If you don’t want to see one of your parents after they have separated, you should be honest and open about why. The parent who you don’t see might be unhappy that they aren’t in contact with you and will probably want to talk about what is going on.
Childline can help you sort through your feelings.
If you feel you are at risk of harm from a parent, it is important you tell a trusted adult as soon as possible, this could be a teacher or youth worker.
You should never be made to have contact with a parent who is causing you harm. You can read about child abuse at the Citizens Advice Scotland and, if you want to report abuse, speak to Childline, the NSPCC or call the police on 101.
If you’re in immediate danger, call 999.
There might be other reasons why you don’t want to see a parent. Usually, you can decide for yourself if you want to see a parent when you turn 16, unless a court order says otherwise. Your parents should still provide for you up until you are 18, though.
If you’re worried that one of your parents is blocking you from seeing the other one, it may help to try and talk with them about this to find out why. If you’re worried about this conversation because it might cause a disagreement, the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution has lots of information about communicating with others when you have different views that you might find helpful.
Family mediation could be another option. That’s where a trained mediator will work with you and your parents to try and find a solution to the situation. Child Law Advice has information about family mediation.
You could also speak to Young Scot’s Law Line for advice on what options you have.
Click here for more information about your rights.