The Kids Don’t Like The Other Parent: Can I Refuse Contact?
When a relationship is over and two parents separate, it is not only practical and administrative details that need to be attended to. Your emotions, those of the ex-spouse and particularly those of the children of the marriage will most likely be a bundle of contradictions. Within this context, the kids will do and say all sorts of things to express these complicated feelings. We look at the challenging issue of a child informing the residential parent that they don’t like the other parent. Can or should contact be refused in these cases?
Kids and feelings
Relationship break-down doesn’t mean a parent should encourage the kids to find fault in the ex. Having said that, parents should certainly assist their children to speak openly about their feelings concerning the people and events in post-separation life. And speaking is not the only way that communication occurs. For instance, it is not usual for younger ones to regress a little with toilet training, sleep routines and the like as they adjust to their new life. Kids can also act up, including those teenagers who can be masters of the surly grunt at the best of times! Give them the time and attention they need to chat with you about the separation. And if the upset feelings linger and they’re not keen to speak with you, family and child counsellors can provide expert support in the difficult times.
Once kids do speak however, a whole lot of confusing and/or angry thoughts about the split can arise. And these can become distorted if what they have heard about your ex-spouse is particularly unflattering. During divorce, all adults of course have a right to find a place to express their feelings. Yet developmental experts agree that this place isn’t in front of the children. It would come as no surprise if a child, upon hearing a parent complain about the ex-spouse’s cockroach problem, anger issues or drunken parties, suddenly announces that they don’t like the other parent any more! Sometimes we need to give some honest thought to how we speak and act in relation to a child’s other parent. Without some careful thought, damage can occur down the track.
The caring kid
When a child says they ‘don’t like’ the other parent, this is something that needs to be looked at closely. Some kids might not like the tuna casserole or nubby sheets at the other house. In simple cases like this, a child could simply be reminded that their other parent loves them and is very much looking forward to seeing them. Some other kids unfortunately become attuned to caring for the residential parent, and feel that must claim to ‘not like’ going on contact visits. If there is residual sadness, hurt and pain that is unresolved, some children will feel an obligation to stay and care for the parent at home.
This needs to be addressed for what it is – a child expressing something that an adult actually wants to hear. Trained professionals can assist adults in working out these vexed issues around loss and pain.
A difficult path
It is possible that the child is expressing some genuine negative feelings about the other parent. As noted above, chatting about these is the best start. If the child explains that the other parent seems busy and disinterested on contact visits, this is definitely something that can be talked through with your ex-spouse. You might be able to glean from the ex some information about a recent work problem or illness that has led them to drop the ball recently, and explain this slip-up to your child.
The harder calls
If you gain any sense that the child is being subjected to violence and abuse and is in fact scared to visit your ex-spouse, this is something that must be immediately followed up with authorities. Seek advice on the best way to obtain relevant information from your child, and how to protect them in the circumstances. Expert family lawyers can assist you to work out your obligations under any parenting orders, particularly if a contact visit is due.
Times of change
As a rule, it is vital to follow parenting arrangements or orders to a ‘T’. They came into being because all available information about the child’s best interests was put on the table. We can be annoyed at the ex. Humiliated by them. Hurt by the past. Yet part of our job as a parent is to foster and strongly encourage our kids’ relationships with their other parent. We have the gift of maturity when it comes to putting the needs of the children first. If a child simply wants ‘out’ of contact arrangements because of mixed feelings, confusion or misplaced worry about the residential parent, it is preferable to maintain the status quo. However, it might happen that both parents agree to change or reduce contact and this is something that your specialist family lawyer will happily assist with. Suspected violence is another scenario where professional advice must be quickly sought.
Working out what’s real
Post-separation, establishing where our kids are ‘at’ can be hard work. It is not unusual to hear contradictory comments about you, your ex-spouse and other significant people in a child’s life. If you are considering altering current parenting arrangements, tread with extreme care. And seek advice from professionals who can assist with the nuances of your situation.