Some people grow up with their parents living in different homes, and some people’s parents get divorced or separate sometimes before or after they are born. If you are under 16, then you have the right to see both of your parents, even when they live apart. There might be an exception to this if the courts think it may be harmful for you to have contact with a parent.
Your parents might arrange a way for them both to see you if they get divorced or are separated. Both your parents have a responsibility to look after you, but there are situations when they may not be able to properly care for you or may cause you harm. You have a right to protection from harm, and other adults will make sure this right is upheld.
If you do see both parents, it might be 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 and there is no right or wrong way to spend time with your parents.
What are my rights?
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 parents gets to see you.
They might need help from a mediator, this 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 should be able to give your views on who you want to live with or see. This may be by completing a form, by talking to the judge themselves or by speaking to someone called a Child Welfare Reporter, who is asked by the court to make sure you are okay and have your voice heard.
Your wellbeing and safety are the most important things the judge will think about when making a decision. The decision the judge makes is called a Court Order.
Childline have lots of great information on coping with divorce and separation and you can talk to them if you have questions or need support. Find out more about what support ChildLine offers, what happens when you get in touch with them and the different ways to speak to them.
The Scottish Child Law Centre can also give you advice about the legal process.
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 your other parent, a family member, a teacher or youth worker. 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. Even if you decide not to see a parent, they should still provide for you up until you are 18 or up until you are 25 if you are at university or further education.
If you feel worried or anxious about seeing a parent, you should talk to a trusted adult – this could be your other parent, another family member or friend, a teacher or youth worker – anyone you feel comfortable speaking to.
If you think 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. There might be a good reason why this is happening, however your feelings about the situation are important and should be listened to.
The Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) has lots of information about communicating with others when you have different views that you might find helpful. Take a look at a video we filmed with SCCR where they answered young people's questions about dealing with conflict at home.
Family mediation could be another option you could suggest to your parents if things aren’t working how you would like, and your parents don’t agree on what to do next. That’s where a trained adult, called a mediator, will work with you and your parents to try and find a solution to the situation. Child Law Advice have information about family mediation.
You could also speak to Young Scot’s Law Line for advice on what options you have.
Visit the Activate Your Rights homepage to find out more about your rights.