Chapter 1 – Telling your children

Chapter 1 – Telling your children

How do you tell your children that you’re separating from your partner? Who else needs to know – family, friends, work colleagues, teachers? What living arrangements will be best for the children? Chris and Michelle struggle with these questions as they work through the first stage of their separation.

This video is part of the When separating series of videos that include Chapter 2 – Getting help and advice and Chapter 3 – Planning for the future.

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Text: It’s Happening to Us, Part I: When you tell the Children.

[Crickets chirp in the front yard of a modern suburban house at twilight. The camera pans across an inside wall and into the kitchen as it focuses on a man, Chris, wearing shorts and a high–visibility work shirt. He is leaning against the sink and holding a mug as he begins a serious discussion with a woman, Michelle, who sits to his right.]

Michelle: There’s space at your Dad’s. I’m sure he wont mind if you stay there till you find your feet.

Chris: I’m 35 years old and I have to move back in with me dad.

Michelle: Well, I’d be fine to find somewhere but it’s not about me, it’s about the kids.

Chris: Yeah, I get it. I don’t want the kids to be disrupted either. Jasper needs you here.

Michelle: You can come straight over after work. I want to make this as easy for them as possible.

Chris: No matter what we do it’s not going to be easy for them.

Michelle: Yeah, but we’ve got to do the best we can under the circumstances.

Chris: I still don’t understand. Just tell me what I’ve done wrong, tell me what’s changed.

Michelle: We’ve been over this and over this—you know why.

Chris: I can’t believe we can’t work this out. I mean, we’ve always been able to in the past.

[Vision shows a bedroom where a teenage daughter lies in bed listening to her parents arguing.]

Michelle: Chris, I don’t want to go into it again.

Chris: I just don’t understand why you’re doing this.

[Vision shows of a bedroom where a young boy lies in bed, also listening to his parents arguing.]

Michelle: This is why! I can’t live like this.

Chris: Like what!?

Michelle: You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.

Michelle stands up and leaves the kitchen area, sliding a door closed behind her.

A young boy, Dylan, sits with his head resting sullenly on his hand. A car pulls up to him sitting on the curb in a car park at night.

[Gentle piano music plays]

Dylan picks up his backpack and gets into the passenger side of the back seat.

Chris: Sorry I’m late, mate.

Dylan picks up an asthma puffer from the seat and inhales through it.

Chris: Didn’t your mum pack that in your bag today?

Dylan shrugs.

Dylan: I don’t want you and mummy to break up.

[Vision shows of Chris wearing a smart–casual shirt, addressing the camera against a black background.]

Chris. Looking back, it was hard. I thought Michelle and I were going to work things out. There’s a real shock when I realised it was over.

[The scene changes to the family room of a house, where Michelle and Chris address Dylan and Hayley at the dining table.]

Michelle: Your dad and I love you very much but we’ve decided it’s best for us to separate.

Dylan: Don’t you two love each other anymore?

[Gentle piano music plays]

Michelle: Not the same way we used to. We can’t live in the same house anymore. It’s not a decision we made easily.

Hayley: So what about this weekend?

Chris: It’s your birthday—the plans stay the same.

Dylan: What about my birthday? What about Christmas?

Hayley, frustrated, stands up and walks out of the room. Michelle chases after her.

Chris: That’s just great, Michelle.

[Michelle catches up with Hayley in the driveway and tugs at her shoulder. It is night outside. Hayley stops and turns around.]

Hayley: So what’s going to happen now? Do I live with you or do I live with Dad?

Michelle: Your father and I are still working out the arrangements. We are gonna do our best.

Hayley: I don’t wanna go to another school! Why is this hapenning? Do you have a boyfriend?

Michelle: No, Hayley.

Hayley: I don’t understand, Mum.

Michelle: Look, Hayley, your dad and I are going to work out everything. You’ll go to the same school, you’ll still see your friends. Nothing too much is gonna change for you.

Hayley: How can you say this?! You and dad are separating.

Michelle: Hayley…

Hayley: I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

Hayley storms off down the street.

Michelle: Where are you going?

Hayley: Sarah’s!

[Vision shows Michelle sitting against a black background, wearing smart–casual clothes and make-up, addressing the camera.]

Michelle: How do you tell your kids you’re separating? It’s a really, really difficult conversation to have. But you have to have it, and you need to get advice before you do.

[Vision shows Chris sitting against the black background, addressing the camera.]

Chris: Holding it together for the kids was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done in my life and I don’t think Michelle or I did a very good job at it. Kids only get one childhood—you don’t get another go.

[Vision shows Chris and Dylan still seated at the dining table.]

Dylan: Jake doesn’t see his dad anymore.

Chris: That’s not going to happen here. I’ll always be around, Dylan.

Dylan: Are you going to move away?

Chris: Maybe but I’ll sort something out so that I’m close by.

Dylan: We’re still going to play basketball together?

Chris: Of course we are.

[Gentle piano music plays]

[Vision shows Michelle silently tucking Dylan into bed.]

[The scene changes to Chris seated at the kitchen bench wearing a green T-shirt as Michelle stands by the sink in a floral dress.]

Chris: How do you expect me to rent a place and pay the mortgage? I’m not a millionaire, Michelle. You don’t bring in much from your job.

Michelle: Chris, I don’t want to have this conversation again. You said you were gonna look for a place.

Chris: Yeah, I know what I said but I can’t just take a day off to look at properties.

Michelle: Come on, Dad said he’d help you find something.

Chris: Yeah he’d like that, wouldn’t he?

Michelle: What’s that supposed to mean?

Chris: Oh come on, he never thought I was good enough for his precious daughter.

Michelle: That’s ridiculous.

Chris picks up an asthma puffer.

Chris: Oh, there it is.

Michelle: What?

Chris: Why didn’t Dylan have this at basketball? Do you know how important this is?

Michelle: Yeah, I do. I’m the one who takes him to the doctors, goes to the chemist, packs his sports bag.

Chris: Yeah, well you packed it real good last time.

Michelle: About as good as you did picking him up on time.

Chris: You know what?

Hayley (from another room): Shut up!

[Door slams]

[Vision shows Chris sitting against a black background addressing the camera.]

Chris: Yeah, we tried not to fight in front of the kids but it’s such a difficult time, you just get carried away.

[Vision shows Michelle sitting against a black background addressing the camera.]

Michelle: Chris and I both realised later on, from things the kids had said, that they’d taken in a lot more than we thought—no hearing problems there.

[Chris kneels on the living room floor in his work clothes, packing a bag and zipping it up. Michelle walks in and sits on the couch behind him.]

Michelle: Chris, I know you love the kids—we both want what’s best for them. Look, this is really hard but can we try to do a better job of not fighting when the kids are around?

[Chris nods]

[Gentle piano plays]

Text: The information in these films is a general guide to the law. You should not rely on these films as legal advice. It is recommended you talk to a lawyer about our particular situation. © 2012 Legal Aid WA. This film has been adapted from resources produced by the Legal Aid WA When separating project. Victoria Legal Aid thanks Legal Aid WA for permission to reproduce this content. This information is copyright. All persons or organisations wanting to reproduce this material should get permission from Legal Aid WA.

Text (next screen): Where to get help.

Victoria Legal Aid

Legal Help

Tel: 9269 0120 or 1800 677 402 (country callers)

For your nearest community legal centre:

Tel: 9652 1500

Family Relationship Advice Line

Tel: 1800 050 321