Guest post by Steven L. Fritsch
While children generally enjoy spending time with their non-custodial parents, this is not the case for every child of divorce. Your child likely has very specific reasons for why they don’t want parenting time with their other parent. There are rational and anxiety-driven reasons as to why they don’t want to see your ex. Depending upon their age, they express their anxiety in many ways. Younger ones tend to throw tantrums, act clingy, or pretend to be sick. Adolescents may lash out by withdrawing or over-reacting. It is painful for both you and your ex to endure.
Another possible reason your child doesn’t want parenting time with their other parent is because spending alone time with them is a continual reminder that their parents are divorced. It is important that you don’t push your child into spending time with their other parent. There are a few steps you can take to make sure that your child spends quality time with them. Do your best to follow these best practices:
Ensure You Are Not Contributing
Determine if the way you are speaking about your ex in front of your child is a problem. Avoid bashing your ex or telling your child very specific problems about your strained relationship with their other parent. You shouldn’t be trying to get your child on your side at the expense of their other parent. Confide in a close friend to vent about your ex and the problems within your relationship with your ex. If your child knows about every mistake their other parent has made, they might think less of them. That may cause them to not want to spend time with that parent.
Communicate With Your Ex And Your Child
Make sure to communicate with your ex once a week. It is very easy to shut your ex out of your life after a divorce, but you shouldn’t do this if you share a child with your ex. Let your ex know where your child is in terms of wanting to see your ex. Communicating with your ex is important and even if your child needs time alone to process the divorce, you need to tell your ex. Remind your ex that divorce overwhelms the child who is in the middle of it and to not take it personally. You also need to take the time to talk with your child. They might hate talking about how they feel regarding their parents’ divorce, but it is necessary. You need to make it clear to your child that you will always be there to listen, even if what they have to say might be painful.
Therapy can be a very helpful way for you or your child to get healthy advice on how to constructively deal with a divorce. Simple advice such as how to compartmentalize a divorce so that your child doesn’t bear the weight of a divorce entirely on their shoulders can do wonders. A therapist can also keep you informed of your progress. If your child decides to see a therapist, you need to let your child work through your divorce on their own terms. Don’t inquire on how your child is doing with their therapist. Therapy is self-serving at its core and should be treated as such if your child goes to therapy.
Make Alternative Arrangements
Some children refuse to see the other parent simply for environmental factors. They might not like the house or apartment that your ex has moved into or their significant other. Adjusting to a new step parent can be very difficult if it comes directly after a divorce. This can lead a child of divorce to feel like they don’t have a family anymore. Environmental factors can be fixed, but you need to pay attention and communicate with your child so that you can identify these problems.
Understand Your Child’s Perspective
You need to listen to your child and make an honest effort to understand their point of view after the divorce papers have been signed. Some parents are resistant to this as they believe their relationship with their children has to change. This is not the case and you need to maintain or improve the relationship you have with your child. Custodial parents become the foundation of their child’s lives and you need to be there for your child to lean on you.
Major Challenges in One-Parent Households
Forcing your child to see someone they don’t want to see isn’t natural. When children do not want to visit the other parent and are forced to, three issues tend to come up:
- Parents become suspicious of one another, and;
- The relationship between parent and child becomes strained, and;
- Legal ramifications may be on horizon depending on the state, in California family court for example.
Suspicion: Custodial parents begin to wonder what exactly is going on at their ex’s house to make the child not want to visit him or her. And rightfully so, but a non-custodial mother or father may begin to wonder if you are turning their child against him or her. Hopefully, you and the other parent have a strong line of communication open to avoid this challenge.
Strain: A child will not hide their displeasure if he doesn’t want parenting time their other parent. On one hand, the custodial parent doesn’t want their child to feel invalidated. On the other, the non-custodial parent will often take offense if their child doesn’t want parenting time with them. Their relationship can break down and they can become estranged.
Legal Ramifications: Some states, such as California, have strict parenting plan laws that must be followed after a divorce is final. Parenting plans are enforced through a court order that is issued and must be followed to the letter of the law. Not following a court order can put a non-custodial parent in hot water.
A divorce is hard enough on you, your child, and your ex. It is important that you do everything in your power to remain a family for the sake of your child. You need to communicate with your ex and your child, avoid bashing your ex in front of the child you share, and consider therapy for both you and your child to make sure that your child remains in your ex’s life. Maintaining a family dynamic, albeit a different family dynamic than your child is used to, will allow your child adjust after the final divorce papers have been signed.
Steven L. Fritsch is a family law and divorce attorney in California. Steven has dedicated his career to help everyday people who are seeking a divorce and need legal expertise.