Family life after separation

Family life after separation

The following is an excerpt from the Position Statement prepared for the Australian Psychological Society by Jennifer McIntosh, Susie Burke, Nicole Dour and Heather Gridley. The full statement can be found at:


The impact of separation or divorce on parents and their children is far-reaching and complex. It impacts on all aspects of family life and the process of adjustment is important for individuals, their families and our society. The APS takes this issue seriously and sees it as a significant public health issue. Psychologists can contribute practice skills and knowledge of prevention approaches to separation, mediation of conflict, and social and practical supports for families in transition.

Statements of general principles

Children need a secure emotional base after their parents separate. There is a need to promote family processes that contribute to determining children’s well-being, particularly in times of stress and change in family structure. The APS recognizes the heightened risk as a result of family separation of psychological, emotional and physical vulnerability for parents and their children. The APS acknowledges the pivotal role of parents and parenting in the post-separation adjustment of children and recommends early and ongoing support for parents in their own management of this transition. The APS acknowledges the role of social science and legal professionals in facilitating collaborative dispute resolution and the early reestablishment of a cooperative co-parenting relationship.

Statements of general policy

In the light of the weight of evidence about the best way to provide a secure environment for children during and after parental separation and divorce:

• the APS supports developmentally appropriate care and parenting arrangements following separation. Arrangements must be tailored around parental capacity to provide stable and emotionally available relationships, which take into account the developmental stage and needs of the child.

• the APS supports care arrangements that minimize exposure of children to risk factors (especially high conflict), and which do not undermine attachment formation and security.

• the APS recommends sensitive interpretation of current legislation around shared parenting, and does not support an assumption of shared care post separation. Rather, the APS recommends a case-bycase consideration of appropriate arrangements tailored to the developmental needs of each child, and the parenting capacity of each parent.

• the APS advocates that shared care is contra-indicated in climates of high, on-going, poorly managed conflict and poor parenting, particularly for children under 10.

• the APS supports collaborative dispute resolution as a preferred forum for the mediation of parenting disputes.

• the APS recommends greater collaboration between the family law field and psychology, e.g. by cross representation at professional conferences, and joint working groups on appropriate care arrangements after separation.

• the APS supports early intervention and prevention programs that ameliorate conflict and promote cooperative parenting.

• the APS promotes the education of primary health care providers (and others) and legal representatives in key risk and protective factors for parents and children following separation, and education in appropriate referral pathways.

The APS recommends that separating parents:

• focus on building a secure emotional base for their children after separation, wherever possible through cooperative co-parenting

• do not expose their children to high levels of unresolved conflict

• carefully consider their children’s developmental and emotional needs when constructing visiting schedules or parenting plans.

The APS recommends that professionals working with separating families help parents:

• to focus on the needs of the child as separate to their own needs

• to understand their children’s developmental needs

• to focus on building a secure emotional base for their children after separation

•  to reduce conflict

• to establish good co-parenting practices.

The APS supports the development of community education campaigns that educate families about the normative stress and strain of separation, and of the key risk and protective factors for children.

The APS supports the development of a guide to multi-media psychological resources for parents, and for individuals and organizations working with separating families.”


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