People often come to us when they have been told they can't see their child(ren) by their ex who is controlling contact. Legally it is the children who have a right to both parents in their lives, unless there is a good reason for them not to. The parent the children live with has an advantage. As a result it is critical that you respond in the most effective way.
My ex says I can’t see the kids
Sadly, this happens frequently following a period of separation or divorce. Even after years of reasonably good parenting times with your kids, your ex stops all contact, often for trivial reasons.
Most parents affected spend hours trying to fathom out the reasons often to the extent you bore your friends and family into avoiding you. You find yourself getting more and more angry and concentrating on your ex’s behaviour and not how to see your kids.
At FNF we have discovered there are numerous reasons why an ex may stop contact, so let’s get them out of the way first.
- You have got a new girlfriend/boyfriend.
- You are just getting in the way and causing them too much trouble.
- You have become a danger to your kids e.g., drugs alcohol or lack of reliability.
- They have become jealous and vindictive, because your life is beginning to get better.
- Your ex has got a new partner and wants to exclude you.
- Your ex wants to maintain control over you through the kids.
In the final analysis though it will be you who will engineer a path back to meaningful parenting opportunities and make sure the kids don’t slip away from you. It will be your ex that has the reasons for stopping your time with the kids and although they may be unfounded you will need to reassure them that your continued involvement in the kid's lives is much more valuable to them and your ex, than ending it.
The last reason on the list is a little more complicated to deal with and you should refer to our additional information sheets on controlling behaviour for detailed advice. You will find this in the information sheet entitled What is Domestic Abuse and what can I do about it. What is important is your motives. It must not be based, even in part, on getting even with the other parent, exposing injustice, vengeance, anger, control, or retaliation. Your job is to convince the other parent however they have behaved or you have behaved, that time spent with you is better for the kids and ultimately for them.
OK so what can you do…. the answer is not immediately go to court! Your kids are worth much more than the stress and delays, false allegations and arguments that court involves.
- Write a heart-felt child-oriented letter explaining that you love your kids, they love you and stopping your contact is not helping them. Say you think she/he is a good mum/dad. That you want to be a loving and supportive dad/mum too and that will help the kids and give her/him some down time. You want to work with the other parent to make the kid’s lives happy, healthy and safe. Add a copy of a parenting plan for her/him to comment on.
Say you are sorry things have come to this and if, after reflection, you see failings in your own behaviour.... apologise.
Note: There is no mention of injustice here, her/his difficult behaviour, no critique of the ex's parenting style or the bad way they has treated you. This is not an equal opportunity exercise. It is the best way to get time with your kids. Give your ex time to reply then give them a gently nudge “I would love to take the kids on Saturday, I have found this fantastic playground they will love…. specially Jenny …”.
Make sure you are paying child support… straight to their account if you can, but if things are not progressing do not throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is not a wasted strategy and neither has it failed. The communication will have been read and your views noted. Circumstances in your ex's life will certainly change and you may get an unexpected answer in the future. It may even be worth a second attempt.
At this stage we often get the comment "Tried that, didn’t work, there's no way she/he will change". Anger and vengeance in both parents fade with time and things do move on. There is no such thing as a failed strategy, it's just not the right time... not yet.
- Find a sympathetic family member (Mums or Dads family), who would be happy to mediate and assist, who is trusted by your ex. Ask them to persuade your ex or even deliver your second letter for you if you are trying number 1 above. They may even be willing to come out for the day with you to reassure the other parent. Ring the other parent during the outing, send phots, to reassure them and get your assistant to help with the handover and return.
- If number 1 or 2 fail write another letter. Deliver it by WhatsApp or an email client that has 'read confirmation', because you are then assured it has been read. Explain: You are disappointed that the other parent has not replied but understand they may be very busy. Explain you still want to be a great Dad/Mum and support her/him and the kids. Ask if you can take the kids out the next weekend e.g. swimming, bowling, football, or ballet. Describe the venue and that you could take their friends if they want to come. Say you have asked advice from a charity and they recommend avoiding going to court as this is very expensive and takes a very long time but to gradually rebuild the relationship with the other parent and the kids. Ask her/him to think about it and let you know soon.
Going to court is definitely not quicker. It delays events by months even years, it can entrench bad feelings between parents, it can encourage false allegations, it can prevent all contact and it can cost a fortune. A meaningful letter, lacking self-interest, supporting the other parent, and concentrating on the best needs of the kids could turn round the situation in a few days.
Don’t try and second guess the outcome of your efforts. Even if you have tried this method and abandoned it as pointless then wait a few weeks and try it again. It will be worth the wait.
Back up your plans with simple letters or cards to the kids. If they are young a picture of you smiling, or a card with a smiley face. If they are older a few comments about a favourite football team and your phone number.
Don’t bombard your ex with texts and emails. If the time is not right this can easily backfire on you. They may report this to the police as harassment. If they have asked you to stop contacting them, then you really do need to stop as a suggestion of harassment can be made within a text or two of such a request. In this situation your only option may be to seek the intervention of a mutual friend or ask a professional mediator to get in touch.
Is it worth it?
Keep copies of all your emails, text messages and correspondence. Try to stick to the same communication method to prevent your ex reading something in to you changing your style.
You should make genuine attempts along the lines proposed above to make progress. Always be open to moving forward, even it seems slow and incremental. It will always be better not to rely on family courts and CAFCASS. Even if these attempts fail, your efforts will not be wasted. You will have built up a history of evidence as entirely reasonable and focused on your child/ren's best interests. If you do end up in court this can be part of your evidence. Judges in family courts will weigh up the evidence available to them. They will see which parent is focusing on the children and seeking to minimise the risk of the child being exposed to parental conflict.
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