Parental separation and then moving with child…
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
When following a parental separation, a parental move with child far away from
the other parent compounds one loss with another. First the child is subject
to the loss of family as it was experienced and then there is the loss of the
other parent. This is already much to grieve over.
A move far away, cleaves a child’s relationship with friends, loved ones,
school and general community. Also gone are their activities and associations.
A move simply disrupts and changes all of life, as previously known.
Confounding matters is the circumstances of the move when following a parental
separation: The move may be occasioned the result of domestic violence to escape
harm; the move may be motivated by a malicious desire to undermine or end the
child’s relationship with the other parent; the move may be necessitated
by economic reasons or other instrumental reasons such as housing, or social
support; the move can be occasioned by any number of these and yet other factors.
As such, the child may be exposed to numerous other forces, impacting on their
care and psycho-emotional well-being.
For the child, a move far away is akin to a social amputation. This necessitates
all kinds of emotional, psychological, social, academic, recreational and practical
adjustments to be made over the course of time in order to recover.
It is reasonable to expect the child in this situation to be anxious and/or
depressed. Depending on the age of the child, these kinds of emotional reactions
can present themselves as feeding and toileting difficulties, sleeping problems,
withdrawn or alternately, defiant behavior. School age children may find themselves
having difficulty concentrating or focusing on academics. Their minds may wander
and they may become disruptive in class. Overt behavior may bring them to the
attention of teachers and other school officials. The child’s behavior
may appear aggressive or alternately, the child may become the victim of taunting
Whether or not the parent anticipates the move far in advance and even if the
move is a very good idea, this doesn’t mean that child will take to it
well. From the child’s perspective, it can spell a very disruptive event
with lifelong consequences. They may forever interpret the world as a hostile
place with no internalized sense of control. Hence parents are well advised
to strongly consider the disposition of their child and the necessity of the
Typically these children are coming to terms with the parental separation and
changes in parental availability, usually determined by the parenting plan.
The child is grieving the loss of the family and subsequent changes to the family
and how they present their changed family to those in their world. This adjustment
alone can take many many months to years, depending on the complexity of the
situation and conflict between the parents. The changes added to that by a disruptive
move could undermine any success for reasonable adjustment.
If a parent is uncertain as to how a move far away may affect their child,
they are advised to consider an assessment with the a qualified professional
experienced in separation issues affecting children. Planning for change may
pre-empt a host of problems.