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What to do if my child does not want to spend time with the other parent?

It is not uncommon for there to be times when your child does not want to spend time with the other parent and for a variety of reasons. It is a problem that mediators and courts face all the time. If your child is refusing to visit the other parent this can be problematic for both parents.

Common reasons why a child does not want to spend time with the other parent?

Children that do not want to spend time with the other parent may still want to spend time with the parent, but external reasons may make it difficult for the child to be motivated to engage in the arrangements. On the other hand, the child may feel they have a difficult relationship with the other parent and has found the arrangements too hard.

Some common reasons why your child may not want to see their mum/dad or spend less time.

- Your child is unhappy with the rules or lifestyle of the parent they visit.

- Your child finds it hard missing out on schooling, sporting or social activities.

- Your child struggles to get along with the parent’s new partner or extended family.

- Your child gets anxious about visits because you argue frequently with your ex.

What to do if they will not visit the other parent?

If your child will not visit the other parent due to safety concerns, then bring this to the attention of your lawyer as you could be breaching court orders (if in place) if you withhold. The other parent may also try to take the matter to court, provided they have a Section 60i certificate from a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, where you would need to justify in front of a Judge why you withheld your child. The judge would need to be satisfied with your reason to make orders that do not allow contact or gives you custody (sole parental responsibility). Remember that a guiding principle of the Family Law Act is that the child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.

If the child will not visit the other parent with no direct safety or wellbeing issues, then tread carefully as mentioned above you will need to provide that there is a significant reason to withhold contact. If you are the parent that the child does not want to spend time with then reflect on your own actions.

Communicate with the other parent about the situation

Be proactive in communicating with the other parent about what is going on, preferably in written communication so you have a record of what was said in case the situation turns into a dispute. You may need to review your current arrangements to see what might be contributing to the child’s resistance. Agree together that when discussing the issue with the child that neither of you will interrogate the child but treat the matter delicately. If you are seriously considering keeping the child, then seek legal advice to provide guidance and explain any legal consequences.

Encourage your child to visit the other parent

Sometimes it is a matter of just making your child go. This might require some creativity to incentivize or motivate them and support from the other parent. Research shows that not having both parents, positively involved in a child’s life may have detrimental effects on their growth and wellbeing. In the future, the child may be grateful that you forced them to go even if they are hating it at the time (provided there are no safety concerns).

Talk to them about why they do not want to go

Find age-appropriate ways to talk with your child about why they refuse to visit the other parent. For younger children it might be through play, drawing or craft. For older children it might be through narrative conversation. Try to be non-judgmental and reassure them that they are loved by both parents. Remain calm and do not dismiss their feelings but acknowledge them.

Get your co parent involved...It takes two to tango

Remember you are co-parents, and your child is your top priority. Any personal feelings that you may have towards each other need to be put to the side. Getting through the situation as quickly and positively as possible will avoid both parents getting into a legal bind. Both parents involved shows a united front to the child which can avoid the child playing one parent over the other.

Be proactive in reaching solutions (short or long-term) that will alleviate your childs concerns but also shows you are both in charge. It is important to consider your childs feelings but as parents you still have the last say. When it is a decision made by both parents that back each other 100% this can be powerful and will relieve any anxiety, guilt or other strong emotions that your child might be having.

Agree that transitions and interactions in front of your child will be positive. Have a plan for conflict resolution in place. Prepare for visitations by being prepared, acting positively and sticking to plans. Being late or unprepared will heightened your child’s anxiety as well as the stress-levels and could possibly lead to arguments. If the reason why your child is avoiding contact because they cannot cope with their parents arguing, then this is something to avoid.

When you see each other at changeovers (if you do) exchange pleasantries, keep calm, make eye contact, shake hands or a friendly gesture such as a wave. Keep things simple and light for your child. Show excitement and reassure the child that you are happy they are spending time with the other parent, that you will miss them and see them soon. This may take some time to change your child's perspective but will provide lifelong lessons and hopefully build stronger relationships.

Family Dispute Resolution

If you are struggling with trying to get around this issue and would prefer to avoid Family Court then you should strongly consider Family Dispute Resolution or Family Mediation. Mediation is a facilitated family dispute resolution process facilitated by a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP or Mediator) that will assist both parents to reach outcomes that are in the best interests of your child. They bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in child and family disputes and will give you a safe place to work through solutions and outcomes together. If the matter does not get resolved in Mediation the Mediator can issue you with a Section 60i certificate to then proceed to Family Court (if you choose to).

Some Family Dispute Resolution Services also have Child Consultants who meet with the child and through therapeutic play or conversations (for older children) determine what is things are like from the perspective of the child. They then provide feedback from their sessions with the child in the mediation that can assist the parents to make parenting decisions. They can provide suggestions and recommendations that will best support your child and family.

If you or you know someone that might be experiencing these issues, feel free to contact Experienced Mediators for a free confidential chat to assist you in your matter.

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