Direct Mediation Services

How old does a child have to be to refuse visitation in the UK?

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My child is refusing to go …

Sorting out child arrangements for your children is often one of the most important things following separation. Questions arise: Where are the children going to live? How often will I see them? Will they spend time with both of us equally? What about alternative weekends? These are just some of the questions that are asked when discussing child arrangements at mediation and beyond.

What can sometimes come as a shock is that you and your ex-partner have answered those questions and come to a workable arrangement at family mediation or otherwise, but your children decide they do not wish to follow that arrangement. It can be incredibly upsetting to hear and prove very challenging. There are various reasons why children could voice that they do not wish to have contact with either parent:

  • It could be a response to the separation itself. It is important to remember that your children have been impacted by the separation too, particularly on an emotional level. Their refusal to have contact with either parent could well be a response to this.
  • It could be that the children do not want to spend time at the “stricter” household. This can arise where there are different parenting styles taking place and they are having an easier time at the other house.
  • It could simply be that they prefer the meals they eat with the other parent!
  • It could be that the arrangement itself, whilst workable for you two as parents, just doesn’t work for them.
  • It could be that your children are saying to you what they think you want to hear.

These are only examples of some of the reasons your children may have for refusing contact. It could be a combination of these, or something completely different. That is why it is important when faced with this situation to ascertain exactly the reasons your children are not wishing to follow the arrangement.

Sit down with your children and speak to them. Explain that both of you want to spend time with them and reassure them of your love for them. Make sure that you listen to what is bothering them. If you are able to work out what the problem is, you may be able to identify solutions moving forward.

What should we do if our children are refusing contact?

As above, you should speak to your children first to work out what is going on. You should not just follow what your children are saying and stop the arrangement. Imagine what you would do if your children refused to go to school.

In fact, that is a good way of thinking about it. In a situation where your children said they did not want to go to school, a useful way of starting is asking why is that. Are there problems at school? Is it because there is no PlayStation at school? This explorative approach is fundamentally important to problem solve.

In relation to spending time with either parent, it is vital that as parents you promote contact with each other. You should encourage your children to spend time with their other parent, regardless of your personal relationship. Remember that you are everything to your children – your thoughts and opinions, if openly expressed, can certainly have an influence on your children’s views. If they overhear you, for example, say that their mum/dad is an absolute so-and-so and you never want to see them again – they could very well follow suit.

If you are finding it difficult to resolve matters independently, you could consider family mediation as an option. Family mediation involves the intervention of a trained accredited family mediator, who will support you both to have conversations about what is happening and to explore options and solutions. Furthermore, in cases where children are refusing contact there is the option of Child Inclusive Mediation, where your child’s wishes and feelings can be brought into the mediation room in their own words.

Child Inclusive Mediation

Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM) (also known as Child Consultations) is a process where a child inclusive mediator will meet with your child(ren) to give them an opportunity to express their views on the situation with a neutral person. As a general rule, CIM is available to children over the age of 10, however, in exceptional circumstances younger children can be seen. If you use CIM as part of the mediation process, you can expect for your children’s voice to be brought into the mediation room to help facilitate discussions. This can take place in person or online.

For CIM to take place, the following prerequisites apply:

  • Both parents must consent to CIM taking place.
  • The mediator must confirm that CIM is suitable.
  • The children must consent to CIM taking place.

Additionally, even if CIM goes ahead, the views of your children may not necessarily be fed-back to the mediation room. The same principles and rules of confidentiality apply to your children’s meeting, as they must consent for their views to be sent back to the main mediation.

What happens if my children are refusing contact, but there is a Child Arrangements Order in place?

This can be a tricky situation. There’s the age old saying: “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. When there is a child arrangements order in place, it is legally binding and so parents need to consider being in breach and therefore being in contempt of Court.

In these situations however, whilst you could apply to enforce the order, it is more likely that the order itself needs to be reconsidered. Taking into account the discussions above, the arrangements may need to be revisited. If this is happening, there is clearly a problem with the arrangements that need addressing. Here, you could consider a discharge or variation of the order. Hopefully the latter, with that variation taking into account your children’s wishes and feelings.

Indeed, in Court proceedings the wishes and feelings of your children will be taken into account. This is in accordance with the welfare checklist found in section 1 of the Children Act 1989. The Court will take into account age and maturity. Regardless of their age, wishes and feelings will be considered, but for younger children, less weight may be apportioned to this. For children over the age of 15, you can expect to take their wishes and feelings very seriously. In fact, the Court may decide to not make an order at all.

In short, regardless of the age of the children, wishes and feelings will be taken into account to varying degrees. These considerations will always be balanced with age and maturity, and whether or not their wishes and feelings are in their best interests. As a general pointer, it is usually the case that it is in the best interests of children to spend time with both of their parents.

What if I am concerned about my child’s reasons for refusing contact?

If you discover or have concerns yourself over your children spending time with the other parent, then it may be appropriate to pause contact. This usually amounts to a concern over suffering or risk of significant harm. Examples of this could include:

  • Alcohol or substance misuse.
  • Domestic violence/abuse.
  • Concerns that the other parent might take your children out of the country indefinitely (abduction).

If you have concerns over the health/wellbeing of your children, you should contact Social Services and or the police as a first point of call. If there is a child arrangements order in place, you can make an application to Court to vary or discharge the order. As part of this application, you can request an interim order to stop contact whilst waiting for a final hearing. In most cases where there is risk of harm family mediation will not be suitable, but you may wish to attend a MIAM mediation so that you can get a mediation certificate for your application to Court.

We offer urgent MIAMs in these circumstances, which you can book by calling 0113 468 9593. All our MIAMs can be offered virtually, so there is no requirement to travel. We can issue your certificate on the same day.

I think my ex-partner is turning my children against me. What is parental alienation?

Above gives examples of where children may have their own personal reasons for refusing contact. There are cases, however, where one parent is intentionally turning their children against their other parent. The result: Children refuse contact.

In recent year, the Courts have taken parental alienation seriously. In a 2019 case, it was ordered that a child should live with the non-resident parent due to parental alienation to ensure their best interests. The view of the Courts is that parental alienation is emotionally damaging to children and risks long term impacts to their emotional wellbeing.

Family mediation can be useful in exploring potential parental alienation and then attempting to resolve matters without going through the Courts. However, if you have concerns that the parental alienation is to such an extent that your children are experiencing, or are at risk of significant harm, then you may wish to make an application to Court. You should always seek legal advice.

Why not talk to one of our mediators?

There is no definitive answer as to what age children are able to refuse contact with either parent. The bottom line is, as under the Children Act, that wishes and feelings will be taken into account in child arrangement disputes, in light of the child’s age, maturity, and best interests.

If after reading this blog post you would like to discuss family mediation, you can contact our family friendly team on 0113 468 9593 or email or complete the form below for a free call back.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The first thing to do is try and settle this between yourself and the resident parent. If this fails, you should consider family mediation before making an application to Court. The most important thing is to try and work out what the problem is and how to resolve it – mediation can be immensely useful in achieving this.

Yes. Child Inclusive Mediation (CIM), or Child Consultations, are available during mediation. CIM is a process whereby a specially trained mediator will speak to your children independently and, with their consent, feed this back to the mediation room to assist in guiding discussions. It is a way of bringing your children’s independent voice into the room.

You need to complete the C100 form and submit this to the Court. There is a Court fee of £232 for this application, though you may qualify for Help with Fees. Before making an application, you must consider mediation by attending a MIAM (unless you are exempt from mediation).

If you have serious concerns over the health or wellbeing of your children then you should contact social services and or the police. You can request for something called a “welfare check” where the police will go to the parent’s house to make sure everything is ok. If you have an urgent concern that you feel warrants the children to be placed into your care, then you can apply to the Court for this.