Release Date: 
Wednesday 8th January 2014

Almost six in 10 (58%) separated parents surveyed do not believe in the idea of a ‘good separation’, according to new polling from Relate*. The findings are revealed as the UK’s leading relationship support charity launches a new campaign aimed at separating and separated parents. Being Parents Apart will offer guidance and support to families across the country, helping to make sure that children and young people cope with any heartache and changes in the best way possible.

The new campaign comes as Relate announces that calls to its national phone line rose by 53% on the first Monday of January 2014 compared to the first Monday of December 2013, with appointment bookings increasing by 86%. New Year is always a busy time for Relate as many couples and families spend concentrated time together during the holidays, which can highlight underlying issues. Relate provides a range of crucial services for parents and families, helping to build strong relationships that go the distance in good times and bad.

The new polling, conducted by YouGov, also emphasises that separation and divorce are not simply one-off events which start and end when one parent leaves home. Over 40% of separated parents polled said their separation took less than a year, with 43% saying it took one to four years and 10% saying five years or more. With 52% of separated parents we asked saying that their separation had a negative impact on their children, it’s clear that finding ways of minimising the impact of relationship breakdown on families is crucial.

Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive of Relate, said: “Deciding to separate is never easy, particularly when children are involved. But for some people it’s the best thing to do and the next step is to work out how to go about it. Heightened emotions can cause arguments and ill-feeling in a home before, during and after separation and kids often pick up more than we realise. This process can have knock-on effects for some children and young people, including problems at school, alcohol misuse and mental health and wellbeing issues.But having strong relationships that go the distance in good times and bad and knowing how to manage the separation process can improve outcomes for everyone.”

Handling separation

When it comes to handling separation, the parents polled were clear on some things: 84% said that not arguing in front of the children was a better approach than getting children to help resolve parents’ arguments (only 2% chose the latter). Similarly, four fifths (81%) said that keeping the lines of communication open with your ex-partner is important, although one in ten (11%) preferred the strategy of cutting off communication as much as possible. And 85% said it was better to tell children about the changes separation will bring to prepare them, rather than hiding changes in an effort to protect them (though 6% preferred this option). 

One notable difference was in attitudes between the separated mothers and fathers we asked on who should make decisions about children’s futures. Here, 68% of separated mothers said both parents should make decisions together about children’s futures, compared to 85% of fathers.

Getting help

One in three UK families with dependent children is affected by separation**.Mums and dads can visit www.relate.org.uk/separation for guidance on managing the practical and emotional realities of separation, including a short video from Paula Hall called ‘Kids and separation’. People can also call 0300 100 1234 or contact their local Relate Centre to find out more about our services, like mediation, face-to-face counselling, courses for parents and children and young people’s counselling. The website also offers parents who are worried about their relationships with their teenagers the chance to chat to a Relate counsellor online for free.

Expert tips for weathering the separation storm

Relationship Therapist Paula Hall, who works with Relate and wrote the Help Your Children Cope With Your Divorce, suggests five important things that will help parent-child relationships to weather the separation storm:

  1. Help children to accept the pain.It’s important to be optimistic and hopeful when you talk to your children about separation, but just telling them that everything will be fine could leave them unable to share the painful emotions they’re feeling. Encourage them to talk about their feelings to you or another family member or friend.
  2. Be prepared for practical and emotional changes. It’s more than likely that there will be two households to support now, so money won’t go as far anymore. And if one of you is starting a new relationship then things could be particularly tense. As parents, you’ll need to work on communicating with each other from the outset so that your children aren’t stuck in the middle of these issues.
  3. How you manage leaving day can make a difference. The day that you or your partner leaves home will be one that you all remember for a long time. Try and lessen the practical and emotional impact by preparing everyone in advance and being clear about what’s going to happen.
  4. Establish new routines. Children cope best with divorce when they have regular contact with both parents. This includes phone, email and text, as well as face-to-face time. Developing a routine is important, but try and be flexible too as the new arrangements take shape.
  5. Let them know it’s ok to enjoy seeing your ex. Even if you’re seething inside when it’s time to hand over the children, keep a smile on your face when your ex comes to the door and give them all a cheery wave goodbye. Your children must know that it’s fine for them to leave you and enjoy their time with their other parent.

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For all media enquiries, including interviews, case studies and pictures, contact Sarah Milsom on 020 7554 2892 or sarah.milsom@relate.org.uk. For urgent out of hours enquiries call 07971 869 735.

Notes to editors:

  • Relate champions the importance of strong and healthy relationships as the basis of a thriving society.
  • Personal and social relationships are important in our everyday lives and are central to our wellbeing.
  • Relationships are under increasing pressure - breakdown costs the UK economy £46 billion each year according to the Relationships Foundation****.
  • Over a million people every year access information, support and counselling from Relate but it's clear many more would benefit from Relate services.
  • Relate’s services extend beyond relationship counselling to family counselling, counselling for young people, sex therapy and informal courses and workshops and are offered through a network of 2,000 counsellors across the country.
  • Relate has been supporting relationships for over 75 year
  • For more information and advice visit: visit www.relate.org.uk/separation

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,537 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th - 18th December 2013.  The survey was carried out online.

**Relate estimates that 34% of families in Great Britain have experienced separation.  This has been extrapolated to include Northern Ireland. The figure is calculated by Relate from Labour Force Survey 2011, NISRA 2011 Census data and DWP analysis of the Labour Force Survey April-June 2011, Families and Children Study 2008 and CSA Administrative Data June 2011. For more information, please contact Relate.

****See Relationships Foundation