A couple have a child together. Both play a full role in looking after the child for the first years of the child’s life but, sadly, they separate in acrimonious circumstances and one parent moves out of the family home (the non-resident parent).
The resident parent is suddenly critical of the others care of the child and suggests that there is no way he/she could look after the child for extended periods of time and certainly not overnight.
The non-resident parent continues to ask for increased time with the child but is faced with complete refusal.
The child starts to show signs of distress during time with the non-resident parent where they had always been very happy. On occasions when the non-resident parent is due to see the child, the other parent calls to say that the child doesn’t want to go and they can’t force them. This becomes the norm.
What Can Be Done
It can be the case that the resident parent is either consciously or subconsciously causing the child to have negative feelings about the other parent. This can result from comments to the child or just by their overall attitude to the relationship. These situations have been referred to as “parental alienation” cases. The child begins to outwardly show signs of not wanting to see one of their parents but there is no objective reason.
The parent seeking to maintain their relationship can make an application to court for a Judge to decide what arrangements are in the best interests of the child. It is important not to delay in taking action. A child will have positive memories of spending time with both parents but the older the memories are, the less effect they will have on the child’s mind set.
It is important to realise that what the child is saying they want doesn't always decide what a Judge might order. Ascertainable wishes and feelings will be relevant but not necessarily determinative, especially where there is doubt as to how the child has come to form those views (i.e. one parent has put pressure on a child to think that way). A Judge can also order that suitable professionals become involved with the child to help alleviate any harm to them.
The court can make various orders that put pressure on the parent who lives with the child to encourage the child to see their other parent. For example, the court can make orders which involve the parent who lives with the child undertaking unpaid work if they are not abiding by an order of the court. In extreme cases, the court can order (or threaten to order) that the child will go to live with the other parent. Such an approach will not always be appropriate but taking advice and being proactive at an early stage can be very important.