Divorce and Separation

Tips for self-care for the parent and the child when undergoing separation/divorce

Written by: Sarah Park, Library & Communications Coordinator

The divorce rate in Canada has been declining over decades. For instance, it went down from 12.7 per 1,000 in 1991 to 7.5 per 1,000 in 2019, and fell further to 5.6 per 1,000 in 2020. Nonetheless, this trend must be taken with a grain of salt, as it fails to represent unmarried couples and their separations

Divorce and separation both indicate the life stage when you split with your partner. They sound similar to each other, but in fact they represent different stages of your life. Separation occurs when a couple, whether they are married or unmarried (i.e., common-law relationship), lives apart from each other because the relationship has ended. The next step after separation is divorce, which occurs when the court officially ends the marriage for legally married couples. In Canada, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments have the responsibility for family law.

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/divorce-certificate-pen-papers-5798968/

Divorce and separation can have serious health impacts on not only parents but also their child. Parents are likely to be grief-stricken, and feel guilty, but also undergo fear of being alone and experience a feeling of uncertainty (i.e., “Now what?”). Children may be impacted negatively when they have to watch their parents separate and/or divorce. They can undergo a number of emotional issues like grief, confusion, guilt, and fear of abandonment. In addition, they are likely to have academic difficulties in school and even resort to disruptive behaviors such as substance abuse.

In this post, the Family Care Office has compiled a list of preventative strategies for parents undergoing separation and/or divorce to overcome difficulties and improve their parenting skills.

For parents:

  • Take care of your physical health: Sleeping and exercising regularly will improve your mood and self-esteem. Physical exercise helps you clear your head
  • Be courteous to your partner: Communicate and provide important things in a timely manner. Refrain from treating your partner as the ‘enemy,’. This is especially important when you have a child and need to continue co-parenting for many more years
  • Pick up new hobbies and activities, particularly things your partner didn’t like: This can help you reconnect yourself as an individual, rather than as ‘part’ of your relationship
  • Be patient with yourself: It can take few years for you to adjust to separation and/or divorce. The first year after separation is usually the most difficult time
  • Have more self-compassion: Don’t blame yourself. Relationships can fail, and moving on from your past relationship will take time
  • Refrain from making important decisions when you are emotional: Wait until you pass initial stages of anger, sorrow, and guilt and things settle down

Parenting strategies for the child’s well-being:

  • Don’t use your child as a messenger: Communicate directly with your partner. Likewise, you should keep the conflict between your partner and you away from your child
  • Be very clear that your child isn’t the cause of your separation: It is important that you should explain that it’s between you and your partner and prevent them from feeling guilty
  • Keep important adults in your child’s life like teachers and childcare providers: They can help watch for your child’s warning signs/signs of trouble
  • Let your child talk openly about their emotions: Be patient, listen well, and provide them with honest answers
  • Create a sense of stability for your child: You can do this by keeping a family for yourself and your child. They feel safer when they can be aware of what to expect. Try to create same routines for both households to follow

The following are some resources you may be interested in:

  • Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General: The ministry’s website offers information about divorce law and procedure like mediation, choosing a lawyer, Ontario family court system, childcare, and more. The document “What you should know about Family Law in Ontario” is available in 9 languages and offers information about laws that affect you when you split with your partner. It covers laws pertinent to childcare, support for you or your partner, and division of property: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/divorce/
  • Ontario Women’s Justice Network: This network website offers 24-hour emergency contacts for underrepresented people in Ontario, including some resources that are available in multiple languages: https://owjn.org/getting-support/
  • Family Care Office – You are welcome to discuss separation & divorce resources with a family care advisor. Please email family.care@utoronto.ca the office to book an appointment and/or ask your questions.