Help! My children say they don’t want to see my former partner!

It is common when two parents separate or divorce for a child of both parents to say that they don’t want to see the other parent. However well you have managed the transition from one household to two, children can respond in unexpected ways as they pick up quite naturally on the atmosphere between the two households.

Alternatively, your child may be reacting against something they are exposed to at your former partner’s home or their issue may be completely unrelated to your separation. It is very important to address the real difficulty as soon as you can before problems escalate. You will know instinctively how to approach your child gently and supportively to explore their perspective.

The first consideration is whether you already have a ‘child arrangements order’ in place which has been made by the court. This is a court order setting out where children are supposed to live and a timetable for changes and visits been homes. If there is an order in place, it is a good idea to discuss what is happening in as positive and neutral way as you can with your former partner, so that you can agree a joint strategy.

You can agree to mediate to iron out complications, or indeed seek the help of an experienced couples’ counsellor who can help identify what the problems might be. Contact arrangements should only be changed by one parent when a court order is in place if you are concerned about the welfare or safety of a child. Be aware that if the matter goes to court, you will have to justify your actions to the court and a Court Welfare Officer (CAFCASS), and there can be serious consequences if you are seen to have another motive for your actions.

If you can’t resolve matters outside court, you may have to start proceedings again to seek help in working out what to do.

If you haven’t been to court before, you can still consider ways of discussing things respectfully without going to court, via mediation or collaborative law for example. Whilst you won’t normally get a court order at the end of those discussions, you are fostering communication and friendly relations which will impact positively on your children.

Importantly, if you feel that there is no way forward other than to go to court, you can apply and ask a court to assist. This is particularly where you are worried about safety or if communications have broken down completely. Unless you are exempt, you will have to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, with a mediator. This isn’t mediation – but a meeting to explain alternatives to court if these are still open to you. You do not need to have tried mediation in order to apply to court.

It is worth being aware that whatever you might think, children sense when their parents are stressed. The court system is still a ‘one-against the other’ process and it can cause a lot of pain to all of you if court proceedings are started. You could easily find it more difficult to deal with your former partner after proceedings have concluded than when you started, because people feel like they are ‘pitched’ against the other parent throughout proceedings. If it is possible (and it may not be anyone’s fault if it isn’t), you can avoid the time, frustration, uncertainty and potential expense of court by exploring all of your options with a specialist solicitor so you can find a positive way forward.