Contact is the right of the child, not the parent.
Separation and divorce are traumatic and difficult times for parents. It can be heartbreaking for a parent who no longer lives with their child every day and, not surprisingly, they want as much contact as they can get. But this ‘getting’ may involve taking more from their child than he or she can give at that time without causing lasting damage. It can be hard for a child to go from one parent to the other and then back again, so contact needs to go at the child’s pace and not be fitted in to the timetable, or feelings of rights or justice, of the adults.
What may seem fair between the parents can be damagingly unfair to the child.
Emotions can run high when parents separate and when one has done something ‘unforgivable’ to the other, e.g. the husband running off with his secretary, his wife’s natural reaction is to hit back. And sadly, she will often use her children as ammunition in her battle for revenge. She may justify this by telling herself that he’s such a terrible person it can’t be good for her children to see him. But the reality is, she can’t change her children’s genes – they are half her, and half him. So not allowing a child to see their other parent means that half of themselves are hidden and this affects their sense of identity as well as their self-esteem. This causes long-term damage which may not be apparent now. A child is also likely to worry about a parent they have no contact with, but be too afraid to say anything.
92% of single parents are mothers and some used to be referred to as ‘implacably hostile mothers’ when they denied their children contact with their fathers. The problem is now more usually referred to as ‘parental alienation’ (fathers sometimes do it too) and you only have to do a Google search of the term to see what a huge problem it is. Turning a child against one of his parents, ie against half of himself, is child abuse. The courts take child abuse very seriously and will make, and enforce, orders for contact whenever they can.
This creates problems for the occasional parent who needs to protect their child from a non-resident parent who is causing the child either physical or emotional harm. This is usually a result of drink or drugs, or mental illness or instability of some kind. It is certainly not sufficient to say that a father will feed his children pizza all weekend. The court will presume that contact is in the best interests of the child, because usually it is, and it can be very hard for a parent to fight the system to protect their child from long-term harm.
But, if you are in this situation, fight you must. Make sure you keep all the evidence, such as texts and emails, and by keeping a diary of everything relevant that is said and done. If a court order is made which is against the interests of your child, you will need to appeal, and make it clear that you will not allow contact in the meantime.
Penalties for breaking court orders can be harsh, such as being sent to prison, but sometimes a parent has to put themselves on the line for their children. However, if your case is genuine, it is most unlikely to come to this.