Families Change
Teen Guide to Separation & Divorce

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If your parents are splitting up, you might want to know how separation and divorce laws work. This section tells you

  • the difference between separation and divorce;
  • what happens when parents who aren't married separate;
  • what kinds of decisions parents have to make when they’re splitting up;
  • what happens if your parents go to court; and
  • what the terms custody and parenting time or visitation mean.

There is also a glossary of important words.

Q & A

What is the difference between separation and divorce?

When two people have been living together and they decide not to live together anymore, they are separated. However, when married people separate, their marriage has not yet ended. They have to get a divorce to legally end a marriage. Common-law couples don't have to get a divorce, because there is no marriage to end.

My parents never married. Do they have to go through the same process that married parents do when they split up?

Parents who chose to live together without getting married don't have to get a divorce, because there is no marriage to end. But they do need to decide what will happen to their children and how they will divide their property.

Who decides who I will live with?

Ideally, your parents will make the decisions together about who you will live with and how that will work. Your opinion should be taken into account.

If they can't decide themselves, they might go to a mediator for help in reaching an agreement. Or they might have to go to court and have a judge make the decisions for them.