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Parenting tips for separated dads

All dads want to be the best father they can. But it can be tough to know how to do this after separation, especially when there's ongoing conflict with your ex-partner. It's difficult to be positive around your kids when you're dealing your own stuff, like anger, sadness and loneliness. This tipsheet offers some suggestions on how to parent under these challenging circumstances. 

(Please note that these tips assume you have at least some contact with your children. We recognise that is unfortunately not the case for all separated men.)

Keep children out of conflicts between you and your ex-partner

Research shows that children can be psychologically harmed by seeing their parents arguing, yelling and using physical violence. So it's really important to try to develop a 'business like' relationship with your ex-partner, keeping the kids out of any conflicts. Here are some practical things you can do to protect your children:

  • Avoid arguing in front of children. If this is difficult, many contact centres offer a 'change over' service so that parents do not need to come in contact when transferring children from one parent to the other (look up 'child contact' services in our service database.) 
  • If you do find yourself in an argument while your kids are around, suggest to your ex-partner that you both take some time to calm down and resume the discussion later (see our tipsheet on managing anger). 
  • Try to communicate directly with your ex-partner and avoid asking children to relay messages. 
  • Don't put the children's mother down in front of them, undermine her parenting, or ask your kids to take sides in any conflict, even if you feel that she is doing this. 

Be as involved as you can

Research indicates that effective fathering increases a child's chances of developing a good self esteem, moral strength and intellectual and social competence. Fathers also experience many benefits to their wellbeing and psychological growth when they are closely involved with their children.
If you are a non-resident father you can still be involved in the important milestones and activities of your child. For example, you can:

  • Attend parent/teacher interviews 
  • Volunteer at your children's kindergarten 
  • Celebrate their birthdays, even if sometimes it is not on the actual date 
  • Attend their sporting events/dance classes/plays 
  • Write to them, send them emails or ring them on the phone 

Continue to show your love and support

Children often blame themselves for their parents' separation. Because they are often too young to understand adult relationships, they sometimes feel that there must be something wrong with them that caused the separation. It is especially important to remind your kids how much you love them by giving them lots of hugs and reassurance. Tell them clearly that they are not responsible for the separation and that even though you can't spend as much time with them as before, you love them just as much.

Develop a shared parenting plan

Shared parenting plans are an agreement between both parents that covers everyday parenting issues such as bedtime, rules about things such as television and computer game use, how discipline will be enforced and so on. Routine and rhythm are important to children and while there will always be differences in your parenting styles, the greater the consistency between their two homes, the more secure they will feel. It is also easier to maintain discipline with children if the rules are clear and consistent.

If ongoing conflict between you and your ex-partner makes it difficult to parent co-operatively, professional mediation may help. MensLine Australia can refer you to an appropriate service in your area.

The opportunity of separation

Although there is no denying that separation is a very difficult time both for you and your children, it can also be an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with your kids. Traditional relationships often leave the nurturing and practical parenting roles to the mother, with the father providing back-up discipline. Separation presents many men with the challenge of being much more involved in every day parenting. If you take up this challenge, you can find new levels of satisfaction in your role as a father.

If you are going through separation and are having a hard time, or experiencing parenting problems, MensLine Australia can provide guidance and support. Call 1300 78 99 78.

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User comments

12-Jun-15 12:02 AM
Helayna i am in this position you are talking about and no one believes me about the manipulation taking place , i am struggling to keep it together !
02-Jun-15 09:55 AM
My sons ex went over east for a 2 week holiday with there 1 year old son and has told him she is not coming back at all what can he do
01-Jun-15 12:40 PM
So what can one do to 'shake things loose', where the female has seized the child and issued a VRO. Attempts to parent have been knocked back by the custodial partner (wife) and the VRO lawyer is saying 'stay cool - don't do anything'. But I want to see my child!!! It has been 2 overnights and 3 hours ion the last 10 weeks, and I am certain this is a strategy of the lawyers. What can I do to see my daughter?
MensLine Admin
18-May-15 11:00 AM
Hi Richard, separation can been a really stressful time and it can feel like you are not getting anywhere. Just remember it is never too late, you never stop being a parent. Mensline counsellors are here to provide you with support through this difficult time in your life. Please get in touch on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling here: http://www.mensline.org.au/user/register
16-May-15 11:49 AM
too late and no easy in the real world where everyone is under increased pressure
MensLine Admin
06-May-15 12:45 PM
Hi Rebecca, it is an important reminder for both parents to be mindful of how they speak about and to each other during a separation, particularly in front of children. As we know children are the most important party in any separation.
MensLine Admin
06-May-15 12:44 PM
Hi Mr Mac, we are here to support you through your separation and we can provide some referrals to organisations that are better equipped to guide you through splitting assets. Please get in touch on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling here: http://www.mensline.org.au/user/register
05-May-15 11:30 PM
Fathers, please be mindful of your part in an argument or how you speak to the mother of your children.
Mr Mac
05-May-15 10:27 AM
After I found out my wife had been having an affair I was absoulutley gutted. We have been separated for about 4 weeks now though still have an ammiccable relationship now things have settled down to how they were and live in the same house for financial reasons. Pretty lucky I guess in that respect but I would like to move on and were wondering if there is a ratio on how much I need to give her to keep the house and she moves?
04-May-15 01:56 PM
My uncles ex has just had his child and won't tell him the name or have any contact with him, he really wants to meet his son but he's not sure what to do, can anyone help?
MensLine Admin
04-May-15 11:05 AM
Sounds like it’s a really tough time for you, Matt. If you’d like additional support, please give us a call (MensLine 1300 78 99 78) or register for our online counselling here: http://www.mensline.org.au/user/register
30-Apr-15 10:30 PM
I have a daughter I3months haven't seen for 4 weeks. Wife continually breaks mediates visits 2 times a week which was all I was offered. To get to court a date is set 4 1/2 months away for parenting orders. That can't be brought forward. All the lies and waste of time. Children need fathers. The law can't help. What a shit place we live in. So much for equal rights. There is only so much any person can put up with before giving up. Everybody loses especially the kids. Will it change?
Syed Jaffry
23-Apr-15 07:26 AM
I am separated and father of two boys; oh part time father. Only see kids 20 hours in a week, is it GOOD for me and even to kids as well.. Why there is not 5050 sharing???
22-Apr-15 03:37 AM
Why won't the court automatically make it so the children are 50/50 with the parents? I've worked so hard for my family now I'm separated I'm talked to by her like I'm a part time dad and I'm not important
06-Apr-15 06:15 PM
Hey I'm Brett a father of three but one of my kids is to a different mum and she is doing all sorts of drugs and evading the cops I've been though child safety and waiting to here back from legal aid and just so worried that she will turn up at my house and start stuff she has before and that I have a dvo on her atm but hope it don't get bad my little girl is already traumatised from her mother she is only 2 I hope all you fathers out there keep you're faith it's not easy trust me
01-Apr-15 11:08 AM
I have full time care of my three boys. The ex wife has been subject to extensive AVOs and undertakes zero parenting....approximately 1 hour per week. The issue that I have is that she continues to attempt to create an image of the children being with her through the inclusion of the kids names on birthday and Christmas cards that she and her de-facto husband send out. It's a total illusion. Is this experienced by others?
19-Mar-15 03:58 PM
I have not seen my son in 3 weeks. I am currently going through mediation and there was a parental plan in place but she wont follow it. She has cut all contact with me and i am unsure to where her and my son are. She has threatened to move to Queensland before without telling me. Should i wait until mediation (2 more weeks) or should i be more worried?
15-Mar-15 12:51 AM
If my partner has not ever on any paperwork stated we are together but lives at my house and we have twins how do I change this because I don't want her to take custody when I know she won't cope with the stress
08-Mar-15 12:16 AM
My wife is keeping me from seeing my children we are separated under the same roof but when I ask for access she is denying it to me and claims she has 100% care although centerlink saysthe care is 50/50 there is no court agreement but is an avo I have organised mediation but it is months away now she's is saying not to text her and basically controlling the children and using the avo against me buy calling the police about everything that I ask or do any ideas
05-Mar-15 05:18 PM
Am I abandoning my children if I move overseas for a year or 18 months? I am not divorced only separated.
30-Jan-15 08:59 PM
My heart goes put to all u wonderful Fathers. I hope one day soon the courts begin to be fair & really put the children first. Children need their Fathers.
30-Jan-15 08:44 PM
I hear u Amy, same situation as u, it is a shame that Children are being denied their rights to spend time with good Fathers. Some Mothers should hang their heads in shame.
MensLine Admin
10-Dec-14 05:07 PM
Hi Bruce, thank you for your post. We are very sorry to hear about the dilemma you are facing within your family. It sounds like you could use some support right now. Our service operates in Australia only, so we suggest you contact a counselling service in the country in which you currently reside or your local health practitioner, to help you at this difficult time.
10-Dec-14 03:40 AM
Im a father of a beautiful son, I had to work abroad to support my family, once I was away my family was coming to join me, but had no intention of coming,so I was still supporting my family, then I met someone else abroad and got married, now I'm torn between being with my son or with my wife I'm an absolute mess. Please HELP
MensLine Admin
01-Dec-14 11:53 AM
Hi Candice, this is a really complex issue that should be talked through. It is not possible to properly address this on our website. We strongly recommend you call us here at Mensline to talk it through with a counsellor in the first instance. Our number is 1300 78 99 78.
27-Nov-14 11:12 PM
My ex husband is psychologically harming our 2 boys... he has serious mental health issues. Is there any parenting courses for the 'bad' fathers out there????
MensLine Admin
31-Oct-14 01:38 PM
If you have concerns about the safety of your child, or your rights regarding knowing your child’s whereabouts following separation, talk with Police or obtain legal advice from a Family Law specialist. MensLine Australia is happy to provide you with support during this difficult time.
29-Oct-14 07:19 PM
My wife is leaving and wants to take our child. she doesn't want to tell me where she is going so I am unable to make sure my child is safe. How do I stop her from taking them?
23-Oct-14 12:14 PM
I have to stand powerlessly by and watch my son fall further and further into hopelessness and depression while his ex manipulates him and the 'justice' system. All he wants is to see his children on the days that they had both agreed to. Something legal needs to be done to stop the mothers using access to the children as a punishment/reward/extortion card. If I am feeling frustrated as a mother and grandmother heaven knows how fathers cope with this. Thank goodness for Mens Line.
23-Oct-14 12:11 PM
Thank goodness for Mens Line.
MensLine Admin
22-Oct-14 04:18 PM
Hi Sharene, thank you for your post. Being separated from children can be very hard tough on a parent. Our MensLine counsellors are experienced in talking to men who are separated from their children and are available for your son 24/7. MensLine is also available to you if you feel you need some help with supporting your son in this situation. Please call us on 1300 789978.
21-Oct-14 09:33 PM
My son wants to see his kids. How can he achive this
19-Jul-14 03:59 PM
Its so hard dealing with a breakup when you have two babies under the age of two. The thought of missing out on my kids growth in all aspects of life scares me. I wont even be able to see my youngest daughter on her first birthday because their mother is travelling to sydney that week I dont know if their is anyone else going through a similar situation but I would love to chat as I have so many questions and no answers
16-Jul-14 12:26 AM
I need help, I need to talk to someone before I lose my mind. How does one rationalise with an irrational person?
darryl hannant
21-Jun-14 09:55 PM
where can a separated father take his two daughters on his weekend access to meet other children and fathers so both the father and children can make new friends.I live in metro adelaide and have no family /friends support.
20-Jun-14 09:28 PM
My wife just left me took my two kids had now put a restraining order against me I'm not violent I don't touch my kids and I've been refused access I'm devastated and heartbroken I just want to see my kids
09-Jun-14 08:40 PM
I have a few friends(blokes) that are separated buy their gf or wife. I hate that the women take the children away out of spite. The costing of the father bucket loads to arrange to see them. Then that's a maybe depends on the lies the woman tells. There need to be more LAWS on separation as long as there is no child abuse or paedophilia for the farther to have every right to see their children.And if they don't get see the children at all no child payment.. I really like to see this approached to a politician.I would Regards Helayna
07-Jun-14 11:23 PM
I have not seen my 7month old son for nearly 2 weeks and is damaging my life and my mental. I miss him so much but I don't want to argue with my so call wife in front of him. Sometime I sleep in my car and didnt want to confront my parents about how damaging is my mind is now. Currently I'm still supporting my so call wife with 100% with my salary and I live with a support from my parent. I don't have plans for the future for myself, but I just live on and I hope my son is well taken care off from my so call wife. I feel really sad and burden for not providing my son a normal family with a mom and dad at home together..
Darren kitk
23-May-14 10:34 AM
Do I have a right to know who is living with my children?
My partner will only tell me his nickname. !
He is telling my son stories that are not appropriate for a 7 year old ,, ie: he had his teeth smashed out with a baseball bat in a fight ! And generally fighting stories
I am concerned who this guy is and why he tells my son these stories
Charles Kalman
20-May-14 06:28 AM
I have been separated and moved out about 4 years ago.My ex-wife's
boyfriend just moved into her house, my name is still on
the mortgage papers. My daughter comes to see
me every other weekend. I do not love my wife
anymore but she has not filed for divorce yet. I do not
know how my daughter feels about this. She will
not say. Should I feel upset.
Kyle bird
05-May-14 09:04 PM
Don't know what to do help please
04-May-14 04:59 PM
After being engaged for 3 years an having a child who is now 2, my partner has decided to kick me out as she loves me, but is not in love with me anymore, I don't have any relatives or family to turn to, and I don't know what to do. I love them both very much and would do anything for them, but apparently it's not enough, I have no material possessions with me as I left them for her and my son so they didn't have an empty house, I can't sleep at night and don't feel like doing anything all day, currently I'm trying to apply for a crappy 1 bedroom shoebox to live in 3 hours away, what the hell happened to my life?
15-Mar-14 10:06 PM
i have not seen my babies 4y & 2ys over 10 months we r separated because of my mother in law who is control freek & my wife is completly brain washed i am miss them 24/7 and have heart ache every day night god help me pls
04-Jan-14 01:01 PM
Is it crossing the line when my exhusbanfs live in girlfriend disapline my child? She hsd oonly knpe my childfor s few years & knows nothing sbout parent hetself
02-Jan-14 06:27 PM
Everyone needs support when things go crazy, Mensline is a good place to talk to other people via a forum, men who are having the same difficulties can ask others their advice on the best way to handle ongoing hassles.
Support is also found by phoning & talking about your hardship & hassles & also when things are just to difficult.
From what I have witnessed, most men get a raw deal from some mothers & the courts, the dads need help to be able to spend time with their own children.
There are some amazing dads out there & the children have the right to spend time with their dads
11-Dec-13 03:34 PM
I have been broken up with my partner. And have been for 18 months. I landed a construction job. Which pays good money. So I can save for a house. My ex uses my Beautiful 4 year old son as blackmail. Emotional torment. And will not let me or his grand parents to see him... I am not a bad father. I have tried everything to make it work. I have never cheated been violent or abusive. On the other hand she has done all of the above..The job I do takes me away from home. But every Saturday i drive 539 km just to spend the night and day with him . Now she has taking that away from me. Because I work away. Does that waiver my rights as a dad and his grand parents to see him... All I want to do is get a place so my boy can call it home. I feel I am falling apart
Graeme muir
06-Dec-13 05:44 AM
Hi I'm a little confused with the things my ex is doing to me with my daughter, she is stopping me seeing her, and having everything her own way. I've been polite and asked nicely to have her and she is completely cutting me out. I need some advice on this as it's hurting me being away from my little girl. I pay my child support, I used to get her every month just for the weekend, but that's now gone to not seeing her at all,
I hope u have help me out and point me in the right direction to fix this. Thanks

05-Jul-13 04:29 PM
My wife has left me and used me for a passport into the country . I have my son from Monday to Friday and she has weekends that we both agreed with . I am lost in what to do in my life other then to make sure my boy is happy although every time he comes and stays with me their is an attitude change that effects him into thinking im not a good father and he asks me for his passport to go overseas to live their were my wife was originally from and stay with family . My so called wife still lives here although she will not back without him but continues to brainwash him . I cry inside out for his youth being yoused in a way . I can't afford legal battles because im single paying so much rent for something we both payed for and now I have to fork out until the lease is up . She will not sign any documents in any way for me to be payed any sort of help from family assistance and centerlink . Without me speaking out here I wonder if it is selfish to move on to find new love . Life is just........ and im missing that wifey thing I once had .
david mclaren
18-Jun-13 12:30 AM
I have tried to get my wife to do mediation but she refuses, my time with our fourteen month old daughter has been only two hours per week and supervised, which is not necessary. but instead of wondering what my wife will throw at me next, I have made our daughter my main concern, everything my wife has ordered through the court for me to do, drug & alcohol rehab', anger management, parenting courses, etc... I don't look at it as the hoops she wants me to jump through but what my daughter wants me to do so that we can get more time together, my lawyer told me that is the way I should look at it. So hard to put up with but I will persist with the knowledge that she (wife) can't call the shots forever. I show my baby girl that I love her, would like my wife to read a lot of the articles like the ones here.
31-May-13 03:55 PM
I dont know what to do. I feel like I have completely lost it. I spend all my nights crying for my son. this hurts so much
07-May-13 12:50 PM
A friend of mine has been separated from his wife for 11 months. He has been riddled with longing for his kids (4 year old, 6 year old & 8 year old) since. He is a good dad, trying to be the best dad for them. There is just too much longing for him to be with his kids. He is not in-love with his wife, that's a fact. But with him missing his kids too much and missing out on the opportunity on being the best dad for them. He is contemplating on going back to his family even if it means he wouldn't have a full-filled life with the mother of his kids. He doesn't know how to commit to a life like that nor can he commit to a life he is leading now, dad for the weekends and on the holidays. He feels so lost and doesn't know whats the best decision to make for everybody's sake.
25-Jan-13 06:24 PM
Hi to those who are trying to battle for custody for child if you are a father, have a good work and your ex don't work at all please take my advice. I know it's really hard not to be with your children but the law in Australia is rediculous. Each time my partner wants to have half time for their son he has to take her to court with all great expense for no other reason is money child support. It's been to the court for years and still fighting now my partner is retired and still fighting g for custody as she is claiming 65% of all the assest which she never worked at all. It seems not gonna end. Trust me don't do the same it's not the parents will suffer but the child. The child will eventually grow up and make their own decision, it is so difficult when you live in this country that law seems in favour of women and some opportunist also have a good ride.
18-Dec-12 01:34 AM
@ Kirt I am in a similar situation only I do not get to see my lids ATM. I have contacted child protective agency and the police as her father was also recently released from jail and is a convicted murder. They still say that there is nothing they can do and treat me as if I am just trying to get back at the ex for taking the kids, when I have a genuine concern for my children's health and well being. The law says I have the rights to see my children but they can not tell me where they are. Kind of contradictive...The law has changed but the people have not and still think in the old ways, and that is that the father must have been doing something that the mother just had to get away from. In my circumstances, she is also violent and has previously walked out on our oldest child 2 times before. She is currently only 3.
My ex suffers from depression and does not take her meds, my youngest (2yrs) has had at least 2 black eyes on separate occasions when I had arrived home from work. I live in a privately rented house and took her back so my family could be together. She is living with Ice users and dealers and the police do not take that in to consideration while doing their "health checks". It seems as long as the kids are not being bashed while they are there they are safe. Family court seems to be the only way to get things done in this country.
24-Nov-12 09:17 AM
What should i do? Me and my Wife are sperated and i'm active duty military. When my kids are with my family who says who my kids get to see? I have a gf that is really close to the family and is there almost everday and she has a 3 year old boy?
phil haney
18-Nov-12 07:33 AM
this was helpful.
16-Mar-12 11:01 AM
@Kirt: we can't provide advice via this comments section, but please feel free to give us a call on 1300 78 99 78 to talk to one of our counsellors about your difficult situation.
13-Mar-12 11:06 PM
I was in a short term relationship with a woman who suffers of mental health issues and poly-substance abuse. We have a 15month old baby girl.
She is currently living with a drug dealer. I am living with my parents in a stable She use to llive with me and my parents until she confabulated to DHS that I have physically abused her, this devastated the family. At the moment we have shared custody but is still going through the family law procedings. For me it feells as if I do not exist in the DHS senario. My main concern is the child's safety in an environment where people are using and dealing in illicit substances and DHS to me do not display concern to our concerns and is more for the mother than the child 's welbeing. Could you help in advice in how to manage this intense situation, please?
Bryan Oldham
10-Mar-12 09:58 AM
We need a forum like this in the United States. I've been separated from my wife and two kids since 10/2011. I see my children occasionally. I'm on OK terms with my wife.
Sherry Wright
12-Dec-11 02:53 PM
This is a good handout to give to Fathers who come into our Program. Post Separation Cooperative Parenting....at Ipswich