What if the custodial parent refuses to co-operate with child contact decisions?

Ludwig.F. Lowenstein Ph.D

Southern England Psychological Services


What if the custodial parent refuses to co-operate with child contact decisions?

If a custodial parent refuses to co-operate with the child contact decisions as set out by a Court what can be done about this? Are punitive measures carried out sufficiently by the Court? We will begin with a typical case illustration before turning to the choices that the Court has,  and an Expert Witnesses’ views, on how to deal with such a situation.


Mrs Y had for some years been resolute in not granting contact between her two children and their father despite the Court ruling to grant such contact. As an Expert Witness dealing with such matters by providing expert evidence and advice to the Court, one is often faced with such controversial matters which have to be sorted out by the Judiciary. Psychological experts are not permitted to make decisions such as: 1) punitive measures to make Mrs Y co-operate with the Court ruling of granting contact to a father; 2) removing the children into care for a time or recommending this in order to treat the indoctrination such children have received from the custodial parent against the now absent parent; 3) deciding to fine or imprison the non co-operative parent and/or changing the residence of children to reside with the non custodial parent or members of his/her family. This is the role of the Judiciary and not the Expert Witness.

(Most parents who fail to co-operate with court rulings on contact arrangements are mothers, but 20% or so are fathers. Furthermore custodial parents frequently indoctrinate or brainwash children against having good contact with an absent parent usually the father).

Mrs Y always thought she had a reason for putting off contact arrangements. Some of the ploys used were:

  1. The children did not want to see their father or have anything to do with him. ( In this case Mrs Y had worked hard to turn the children against the father. It must also be said that the children witnessed some upsetting scenes of threats by the father against the mother and possibly physical domestic violence on both sides.)
  2. The mother, Mrs Y, claimed that she had to work and could not comply with either contact arrangements or mediation recommended by the Court. (This was only admitted following the Court decision allowing contact and when arrangements were being made for mediation and contact visits to be arranged and monitored.)
  3. Mrs Y  also claimed that the children would not want to attend contact sessions because they would miss school and/or needed to do their homework, or be out with their friends.
  4. When mediation was arranged Mrs Y also tried to put obstacles in the way of attending at the times specified due to excuses such as: having to work, too short notice to arrange the meeting, the children needed to be at school etc.

(Those who seek control of  children over contact with the absent parent will frequently use any excuse or reason why children should have as little contact as possible, or no contact at all, with the absent parent, claiming that this is the wish of the children. One can only say this is at best taking unfair advantage of the position of being a custodial parent, and at worst, a form of emotional abuse since the custodial parent has created the situation where the children want little or no contact with the absent parent,( usually the father). Had such children been required for medical or dental treatment there would have been no question about them attending for this.)

What can or should be done?

Depending on the Judiciary involved and the Court, the Court will often differ considerably in the decisions reached. Many will speak of having sympathy with the non-custodial parent and yet consider it of paramount importance that the child’s alleged decision or will to have limited or no contact with the absent parent, must be adhered to.

This, in the view of the expert advising, is misjudging the situation and creating an injustice. It is in the best interest of children to have good contact with both parents, especially when in the past they had had a good and warm relationship with both parents.

Judges must be aware and understand why a child will not wish to have good contact with a now absent parent, especially when the absent parent had a warm relationship with the child in the past. The Judiciary needs to explore, or have explored for them by an Expert Witness, why the child’s view of the absent parent has changed!

It has already been pointed out that children can be manipulated, especially younger children by a determined custodial parent, whether it is father or mother, who has “implacable hostility” towards the now absent parent. If that is the actual case then the expert witness must point this out to the Judiciary. There are of course exceptions such as when the non-resident parent has not been the best of parents and has perhaps indulged in sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.  This certainly can lead to a change of heart of feelings towards the absent parent if in fact it occurred.

Influencing children against another parent is a form of emotional abuse which should not be tolerated and which should not go unpunished. It must be stated that the abuse of a child’s mind or way of thinking needs urgent intervention. What are the alternatives or actions that the Court could take under such circumstances, and that are in the best interest, both short and long term, of the child caught up in such a disharmony? The best course of action is that what must happen needs to be in stages of increasing severity.

An expert witnesses’ view

  1. Such children need to be treated by a competent professional in order to remove such negative attitudes and behaviours towards the absent parent.
  2. If this is unsuccessful, then the home environment and the influence of the custodial parent is still “poisoning” the child’s mind and undermining the efforts of the independent professional expert and the courts in seeking to develop good contact with an absent parent.
  3. The perpetrator of such insidious undermining needs to be warned as to what will happen if the child, and the influences against contact, continue, and what sanction(s) will be applied. This can only be prevented when the custodial parent co-operates fully and encourages the child to have good contact with the absent parent. Sanctions are rarely put into practice and are usually stated as being a fine or a custodial sentence. However, I would like to suggest that some form of community services could also be put forward as a sanction to be used against those who default and hold out against the Court decision.
  4. If this does not happen then the child may have to be removed from the emotional abuse carried out by the custodial parent and receive treatment for as long as necessary in:
    1. A neutral setting or with a neutral relative.
    2. Be taken temporarily into the care of the Local Authority.
    3. Reside with the absent non-resident parent.

Contact with the former emotionally abusing parent can be resumed once the child has accepted that he/she has two parents and has the love of both parents, as well as feeling love and respect for both parents.

  1. Once the insidious influences of the emotionally abusing parent have been reversed the child can once again have contact with the now non-resident (formerly resident) parent since the emotional abusing has ceased. It is important that both parents speak well of the other, (especially the custodial parent) and encourage contact.

I t is hoped that more and more members of the Judiciary will follow a plan such as the one outlined here. This will help family court decisions to be respected, which they are often not at the present time. Instead they are viewed as unfair and unjust. The Judiciary will be viewed as being “even handed” and this will also be in the best interest of children caught up in the disharmony and hostility between parents in conflict. It will also make the work of Expert Witnesses such as myself more gratifying.