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Children who Resist, Refuse or Reject a relationship with their Parent

Children who Resist, Refuse or Reject a relationship with their Parent

Written by:
Jackie Dale
Amber Holdaway

Separating from your spouse or partner is often stressful, complicated, and painful especially when children are involved.  Reaching an agreement about how a child's care will be shared can be challenging and deepen conflict between parents if they don’t see eye to eye. Children exposed to heated or ongoing conflict between their parents, often struggle to understand and adjust to their new family life.

When children actively begin to resist or refuse to have time or contact with one parent, this raises alarm bells.  It is important to get clear legal advice at this stage. There are many complex reasons why a child may refuse or reject a relationship with a parent.  Assessing the potential reasons for this resistance requires careful and frank analysis of both parents, the wider family dynamics, and the children's age, capacity, and temperament, among other factors.

One concern may be that a parent is negatively influencing the children, whether consciously or unconsciously, leading the child to turn away from the other parent. This influence might manifest through criticism, denigration, or undermining of the other parent in the child's presence. When children are drawn into adult issues regarding the separation and "who is to blame," they may feel compelled to support the parent they perceive as being hurt or "wronged" by the breakup. For instance, one parent might manipulate the child's opinion by saying the other parent "left them" and now prefers their new family.

Conversely, a parent might raise concerns that the other parent's behavior is causing the child's resistance. Issues such as unsafe parenting, physical discipline, substance abuse, limited parenting skills, or significant differences in parenting style (e.g., harsh versus lax routines) can contribute to a child's reluctance to engage with one parent.

These complex dynamics require careful navigation and professional advice to minimise conflict and prevent the escalation of the resist-refuse dynamic.

What is a resist – refuse Dynamic?

The resist-refuse dynamic is a term used to describe a pattern of behaviour that can occur in high-conflict family situations where a child or children actively resist or refuse contact with the other parent, despite agreements between their parents or even Court orders.  These family dynamics arise from multiple factors within each parent, the history of conflict, and the co-parenting relationship.

What should you do?

If you are experiencing these issues in your child or children refusing contact with one parent, it is important to seek legal advice early before these dynamics become too entrenched.

If you have any enquiries relating to relationship property and other family-related legal services, please contact:

Jackie Dale (Senior Associate)

DDI: 09 306 6747


© McVeagh Fleming 2024

This article is published for general information purposes only.  Legal content in this article is necessarily of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice.  If you require specific legal advice in respect of any legal issue, you should always engage a lawyer to provide that advice.

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