How alienated parents can take steps to reconnect with their children

22-July-2016 Family Law By admin

Separation is a difficult and confusing time for children of any age. A child commonly adopts some of the emotions felt by one parent towards the other parent, thereby impacting the relationship between the and the separating parent. This is particularly true if the child feels an obligation to align with the parent with whom they are living.

So what can be done to repair the relationship between the separated parent and a child and what is the Court’s approach?

The difficulty is that by the time some of these cases come before the Courts, the situation has been in play for months or even years. Since the Court’s primary focus is on the best interests of the child, the judge generally adopts a ‘go-lightly’ approach involving some kind of family therapy, if considered appropriate, rather than forcing the child into a situation which may cause them more emotional harm and further damage a tenuous relationship with the other parent.

There are government funded services such as the Anchor Program, run by Unifam which provide counselling for the children of separated families. Unfortunately, places in these programs are popular and often involve a waiting list. There are many other private organisations that offer family therapy and counselling.

The Court recognised the children’s strong alignment with their mother but felt it important that the children were allowed the opportunity to rebuild their relationship with their father.

In a recent case – Sandford & Cobb [2016] FamCA11 – the Court ordered a reluctant 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister begin counselling and spending time with their father, who had been absent for most of their lives. They were very young at the time of the parents’ separation and since then, the mother had never supported or encouraged the children’s relationship with the father and had moved away several times. The mother remarried and the children referred to their stepfather as “Dad” and the father by his first name. The father wished to spend time with his children but during the Family Report session at the Court, both children told the report writer that they did not want to spend time with their father, and the mother did not support the children having any time with the father.

The Court recognised the children’s strong alignment with their mother but felt it important that the children were allowed the opportunity to rebuild their relationship with their father.

The report writer commented:

Due to their strong alignment with their mother, [it] is likely that both children would refuse to spend time with their father, even if orders were made. This would put the children in a position of high anxiety. Any attempt to assist them to rebuild their relationship with [their father] needs to be planned and carefully implemented. It needs to include a therapeutic element.

The Judge commented:

The best interests of the two children require what might be described as “a cautious robustness” to the reintroduction of the children to spending time with their father. Immediate therapeutic counselling is in their best interests. Reintroduction to their father, through that therapeutic process, is also in their best interests, as recommended. However, I am very concerned that an open-ended time frame, coupled with the mother’s clear view that the children should spend no time with their father, will result in no actual progress towards the children spending time with their father being made in the six-month period suggested, before orders providing for time are made. The real risk of the children becoming completely estranged from their father …, demands a fairly robust approach. If the children do not start spending time with their father soon, it could very well be too late. At the same time, there is a need to be mindful of the need for reintroduction in a way that ensures the children’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing are appropriately secure.

The child’s views are given more weight the older they are and need to be considered by the Court when determining what is in their best interests.

The judge also ordered some short initial supervised visits between the father and his children, leading up to longer unsupervised visits.

Generally, the older the children, the more reluctant the Courts are to make orders that are against the children’s wishes. The child’s views are given more weight the older they are and need to be considered by the Court when determining what is in their best interests.

Early therapeutic intervention is the key to repairing damaged relationships between children and their parents as a result of separation. In the event that the other parent refuses you time with your children, or the children themselves refuse such time, then you should immediately seek to engage in a mediation process and family therapy to attempt to resolve the issues before the relationship damage becomes irreparable.

Streeterlaw has the expertise to assist you in your Family Law matter. Please contact us to discuss your personal circumstances and how we can help you on 8197 0105 or email advice@streeterlaw.com.au.

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