What happens if my parents split up?

Learn more about your rights as a young person if your parents split up

Written by Children's Rights Alliance


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This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People published by the Children’s Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with their kind permission. Know Your Rights is a public information project designed to inform everyone, in plain language, of the rights and entitlements children have in Ireland and where to go when they are not respected.

If your parents split up you might experience change in your life. If you feel worried about the situation it is important to speak to your parents about how you are feeling. If you do not want to talk to your parents about what is going on there are other supports that can help such as Childline. 

What happens to me if my parents split up? 

If your parents split up they will have to decide:

  • how they will share the day-to-day responsibilities of taking take care of you
  • where you will live
  • if you will live with one of them or share your time with both
  • how often you will see each parent and for how long
  • how much each of them will pay towards running the home

If your parents cannot agree on these issues, someone else will have to get involved to help your parents to decide. This could be a mediator, lawyer or a judge.

What happens if my parents do not agree?

If your parents cannot agree on what happens to you if they split up, they might go to court to have a judge decide. If a judge is deciding what happens to you if your parents split up, the most important thing they must consider is what your best interests are.

In deciding what is best for you overall there are a number of things a judge must consider, including:

  • the history of your care
  • the benefit to you of having a relationship with both of your parents
  • any harm you may have suffered
  • your opinions

Can I have a say in decisions about my care?

You do not have a right to have a say in decisions your parents are making about your care, however, they may ask you for your opinion if they wish. If your parents are getting help from the Family Mediation Service, you may be invited to attend a session with your parents to discuss the arrangements they have made.

If a judge is making a decision about guardianship, who you live with and access, you have a right to have your opinion heard. There are many ways a judge can hear your opinion. Sometimes a judge might decide to talk to you directly. Otherwise the judge might decide to have an expert talk to you who will then write a report to the court that will include your opinion on what should happen.

It is important to note that while a judge or expert will listen to your views, they may not ultimately make a decision in line with your views. This is because your views are only one part of what the judge has to look at when deciding what is best for you overall.

Do I have a right to see my relatives if my parents split up?

Yes, in most situations. Arrangements will usually be made for you but step-parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers may also apply to the court for the right to see you. The court will allow this if it is best for you overall.

Is there anything I can do if I am unhappy about the time I get to spend with my parents?

If you are unhappy with the amount of time you spend with either parent, try to explain your point of view to them. You might want to get help from organisations that work with children and young people like Teen Between. 

Do I have a right to financial support from my parent?

Your parent has a duty to support you financially until you are 18. If your parents separate or divorce, they must both provide for you. If they cannot agree, the court will decide, based on your parents’ income and other family responsibilities. A step-parent who is not your legal guardian does not have to financially support you.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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