Children’s experiences of ‘home’ after parental separation

Recognising and facilitating multiple and differing relationship priorities after separation
Thursday 26 July, 1050 – 1110


Belinda Fehlberg
Melbourne Law School

Bruce Smyth
Australian National University

This paper seeks to explore the meaning of “home” for children in separated families. No prior family law research has done so despite the personal and social significance of “home”, the reality that most children now move to some degree across two households if parents separate, and the increasing emphasis in policy, law and professional practice on listening to children regarding their post-separation living arrangements.
Drawing on interviews with 22 children conducted in 2011 as part of a larger qualitative study, we find that home – or its absence – was constituted primarily through relationships. Children felt at home when their relationships with others at the house signalled they belonged or were welcome in that space. There was no direct connection between how often a child stayed at a house and whether they experienced that house as a home.
Our preliminary work points to the importance of exploring “home” as a new conceptual tool for thinking about children’s living arrangements and adjustment after parents separate in a more child-responsive way.