All too often parents will say that a child does not want to go with the other parent during their scheduled time. This may be manipulative on a parent’s part. In many instances, however, the behavior is emanating from the child. This behavior or verbalization of a wish to change behavior is an attempt by the child to appear loyal to the primary custodial parent, because the child is senses that this parent has some left-over upset feelings towards the other parent. In cases like this, the child needs to be encouraged (and sometimes even forced) to go on the visits until the child feels that he or she is not dividing loyalties between parents simply by visiting with the non-custodial, less-seen parent. If need be, consult a therapist for help with these issues. For another article on this topic, click here.
The field of law and psychology has created a term for when a child does not want to visit her non-residential parent, expressed with venom and vehemence. The child expresses disregard for the parent, maybe even hatred. The term is Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). PAS occurs when a child becomes allied with one parent to a degree that they refuse to have any contact with the other parent. The hatred they express often reflects the feelings of their primary parent. They become echoes of their parent’s disdain. Often it is the mother’s disdain for the father. This disdain may be communicated directly to the child, until that parent cultivates negative feelings in the child that become deep rooted and unmalleable. When parents deny that they have conveyed such feelings to their child, it is often true that they have not discussed how they feel directly, yet they have conveyed their attitudes through unconscious communications which the child picks up. For 5 signs that your former spouse is turning your children against you, click here.
If you think you are the victim of PAS, you have several options open to you.
Your option of least intrusive means is to talk to your child yourself, and to have someone whom the child and you both trust (e.g., a grandparent) talk to the child. Tell your child how much he means to you, how much his rejection hurts, and how much you want to work on your relationship. Ask him what is getting in the way of your trying together. Sometimes this minimal intervention is sufficient to begin changing the situation, but not usually.
You can file a motion with the court for contempt of a visitation agreement, in order to have the court enforce your parenting plan. If the court finds the other parent guilty of contempt, it can levy financial, detainment, or other sanctions through changes in parenting orders.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
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