What Happens if My Child Refuses Contact with the Other Parent?

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Even if you maintain a good relationship with your former partner, a situation may arise where your child does not want to have contact with their other parent.

Possible reasons include:

  • An emotional reaction to your separation or divorce
  • There are different rules at each house, and they don’t like the ‘stricter’ rules of the other parent
  • They prefer the food at ‘home’
  • Behavioural reactions to the new situation
  • The timing does not suit them
  • They may be saying what they think you want to hear

If your child does refuse contact, it is important that you establish exactly what the reasons are. Speak to them and listen to their concerns, and you may be able to identify why they are reluctant to see their other parent. You may then be able to find solutions that alleviate their worries.

What if my child refuses contact?

As we saw above, if your child refuses contact with the other parent you should try and establish what the reasons are. Don’t just cease contact altogether.

You should manage the situation positively and encourage your child to have contact. You should explain to your child that both parents love them and promote the idea of them spending time with each of you.

It is also important to consider whether anything you are doing could be influencing your child’s decision. For example, if you are regularly expressing that you don’t want to see your ex, they may feel that saying the same is what you want to hear.

You could also consider family mediation, or counselling for your child.

While a child’s wishes and feelings are considered when deciding family matters (including by a Court, depending on their age and maturity), decisions will not be taken simply based on what a child says.

Courts typically want a child to have meaningful contact with both parents and believe that time with both parents is important to a child’s welfare.

What if there is a Child Arrangements Order in place?

If there is a Child Arrangements Order (or other order) in place, the Court will expect contact to happen. The Court will also expect you to promote the idea of contact with the other parent to your child.

However, if your child refuses, the non-resident parent could apply to the Court and the resident parent could be held in contempt of Court.

If your child regularly refuses contact with the other parent, you can apply to the Court for variation of the order or to have it discharged.

What if there are valid reasons for concern?

It may be that you have concerns about your child spending time with the other parent due to safeguarding or welfare issues. This might be:

  • Fear of abduction
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Drug misuse
  • Concerns regarding emotional or physical harm.

In this case you should speak to your Local Authority for assistance in how to manage these issues. Approaching a family lawyer for legal advice could also help.

You may also be able to apply for an interim Child Arrangements Order. This would enable your child to be returned to the care of one parent during ongoing hearings.

Alternatives to going to court to facilitate contact

If you want to ensure that your child has meaningful contact with both parents, there are several approaches that you can take to avoid lengthy and costly court action.

Mediation

Using mediation, you can work with a trained, qualified mediator whose role is to help you to work together to resolve issues in a non-confrontational way.

A mediator can also help you to come up with a ‘Parenting Agreement’ which outlines how you agree to parent your child, even if you live apart.

Mediation can also help you to agree changes to arrangements between yourselves in the future. For example, as your child gets older, the contact schedule may change as they have school or other commitments. The skills you learn during mediation can help you and the other parent to manage these changes in a positive way.

It is also possible to include your child in mediation. Specially trained family mediators can help your child to express their views, and get them to outline any concerns or worries they have. Involving your child in this way may help both parents to agree to changes that are in their best interests.

Child Contact Interventions

A Child Contact Intervention is an 8 to 10-week programme designed specifically for you, the other parent, and your child. You will work with trained and qualified staff on a bespoke programme to meet the needs of your child and be supported in ways of managing contact.

These interventions can help with:

  • Preparing for contact
  • Preparing a child for contact
  • Sustaining contact

CAFCASS can refer you to a programme in your local area, or you can access a programme independently using a NACCC accredited provider.

Separated Parents Information Programme

The aim of a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) is to help you and the other parent identify the ways in which your separation/divorce may be affecting your child.

Your child will often pick up on disagreements or disputes, and a SPIP will help you to manage your behaviour to lessen the impact on your child. This can help contact to run more smoothly.

The Court may direct you to attend a SPIP, or you can access a programme independently in your local area.

Family Consultants

A family consultant is a trained relationship coach. As well as providing you with practical parenting advice, they can also give you emotional support.

Working with a family consultant can help you to improve communication with the other parent, create a parenting plan, and help you adapt to your new family situation.

What is ‘parental alienation’?

We have seen that there can be cases where a child may refuse contact with another parent because they believe that is what you want to hear.

Parental alienation occurs when a child has these thoughts as a result of your hostility towards the other parent, or similar emotional manipulation.

Put simply, it is where one parent turns the child against the other, with the outcome that the child no longer wants contact with the other parent.

It often manifests itself in a situation where a child may have previously enjoyed a close bond with a parent, and then later rejects them – seemingly for no real reason.

Parental alienation can be extremely damaging and can have a long-term impact and courts are taking this issue seriously.

A 2019 court case saw a judge direct that a parent should live with their non-resident parent as a result of parental alienation, as it was the only realistic way of ensuring the child’s best interests were met.

The judge said that any stress caused to the child as a result of the change of residence would be of short duration and that “the test is, and must always be, based on a comprehensive analysis of the child’s welfare and a determination of where the welfare balance points in terms of outcome.”

 


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