Families Change
Teen Guide to Separation & Divorce

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Important Words

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Attorney for a Minor Child A lawyer who is appointed by the court to represent the child's legal interests and to tell the court what is best for the child. Also called an AMC or Counsel for the Minor Child.
Child Support Money that one parent gives the other parent to help pay for the things that their children need.
Divorce A legal action that two people take to end their marriage.
Guardian ad litem A person who is appointed by the court to tell the court what is best for the child. Also called a GAL.
Joint Custody Joint custody can mean a number of different arrangements. One example is when the children live part of the time with one parent and part of the time with the other parent, but both parents make decisions about things in their children’s lives.
Legal Custody How parents make major decisions about the child's health, education, and welfare. Can be joint (both parents have certain responsibilities) or sole (one parent has the responsibility alone).
Marriage A legal agreement that allows two people to live together in a legal union.
Mediation A one of the processes the court’s Family Services office uses for resolving conflicts between parents. A neutral professional tries to help find a solution that meets everyone's needs.
Mediator A person who has been specially trained to act as a neutral third party in helping people resolve conflicts.

Parenting Plan

A parenting plan describes how the parents will divide their responsibilities for taking care of their child. The plan may include a general or specific schedule of days, times, weekends, holidays, vacations, transportation, pick-up and drop-off, limits on travel, counseling and treatment services, and other details.
Parenting Time/Visitation The time children spend with the parent who does not have custody. Custody and parenting time can also include a parent's right to receive information about the children's health, education, and welfare. Another word for parenting time is visitation.
Physical Custody Where the child lives; can be joint or sole.
Separation When two people stop living together.
Sole Custody Can be physical and/or legal and refers to a situation where one parent has the responsibility for the child.
Separation Agreement A contract between two people who have separated, stating, among other things, where their children will live and how they will divide their property.

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.

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.

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.