Let’s face it co-parenting after divorce isn’t easy. Many children of divorce go through a roller-coaster of emotions like their parents do when the family splits. Children may isolate. Have angry outbursts. Refuse to eat. Cry. Say horrible things. Throw tantrums. But what do you do if they refuse to see you or your ex-spouse? It’s a delicate and difficult situation for all involved and one that needs to be handled carefully.

Even when every measure has been taken to make the separation as smooth as possible and there is a positive environment provided by both parents, children may refuse to leave one parent to go to the other. They will typically do this at the switch time, where they announce that don’t want to go. This happened to my sister when she got divorced. She would turn up to collect her children for a family gathering and find her son had refused to get dressed that morning because he didn’t want to go.

Mark I worked with found that forcing his daughter to go back to her mother’s was the most painful post-divorce experience he had. For him it was not only at switch time but his daughter said repeatedly she didn’t want to leave him and his house. He felt desperately sad to say to his upset daughter that she had to go. His wife Angie was beside herself, how could her own daughter reject her, where had she failed? What had mark done? could he be trusted?

Whether it happens occasionally or on a more regular basis, angry outbursts and over reactions can make the situation a whole lot worse.

Nicola Beer Divorce Coach

Common Reasons and Solutions to tackle when your child does not want to visit

Your child may feel guilty

It may be the children may feel uncomfortable in the exchange because they don’t want to upset one of you by leaving a parent alone. So they may feel guilty at leaving a parent which can be heightened at the point of exchange. To help with this don’t let your child think you are going to be lonely or sad when they go to the other parent, as they may want to stay to save a parent feeling hurt.

Your child may want familiarity

Recognize that it can also be about staying with what is familiar. We all like familiar environments and our comforts. Children even more so. They may want to remain where they are most settled. So take time to explore if they want to take anything with them or if there is anything you can get at your house to make them more comfortable.

Your child may want more space

I’ve always liked my own space and hated feeling like I am in the way. This is something many children and adults crave. Where possible provide them with their own space, where they can go for some quiet time. Even if they are not staying overnight, a room they can go to or a tent outside in the garden perhaps. Quiet time can help them adjust to the many changes that follow a family split. Space is especially important if they are sharing rooms and don’t normally do so.

Your child may not want to pass on a message

Children need to be protected from carrying messages. Where possible communicate with your ex-spouse yourself. As mentioned in my Free E-book “Protect Your Children Through Divorce –avoid the 3 common pitfalls most parents make” Click here to get your copy

Children should not be messengers between you. I worked with a family, where the child did not want to see the other parent and after sitting their child down they found out it was because they didn’t want to pass on the message from Mum to Dad about their school expenses and trips and ask for money. If a child anticipates a message will not be well received by one parent, they may want to avoid seeing them all together.

Nicola’s tips for stress free co-parenting

Mutual exchange points

If exchanges are difficult, then try to do pick up and drop offs in a mutual place. A park, or after another event the children are at: school, party, sports club etc. If one parent can take them and another pick them up, it eliminates any awkwardness they may feel going from one to the other.

Don’t bad mouth your Ex

Don’t speak negatively about your ex to your children. If you do you may be making them fear your ex or feel negative towards them. They will then be confused that one day you are saying how bad your ex is and then the next telling them to go and spend time with them and they should go.

Spend time as a family together

If you can have family outings and attend school events together. I appreciate from the many couples I work with it may not be possible. But going out for a meal, to the cinema, park, zoo or another outing can benefit children if you are finding they are refusing to see one parent. As you are showing them you can get along still and that it is ok to be around you both, that they don’t need to feel torn.

Keep in contact with them

It is a good idea to call them when they are away. To let them know you miss them but are doing well and looking forward to them coming back home. Let them know they can call their other parent anytime they wish and encourage them to do so.

Make them feel wanted

Remember that Children can sense if they are wanted or not. Sometimes I see parents argue over time having the children but when the children are with them, they are preoccupied. Ensure that the person they do not want to spend time with engages with them. Quality time is often more important than quantity.

Be supportive and understanding

Marital separation is always a difficult for children. If your child does not want to spend time with you, don’t take it personally, be understanding and not angry. If your child doesn’t want to go to the others house, be encouraging but not forceful. Time, love, encouragement and understanding will help.


Encourage your child to discuss why and create a safe place for them to open up. Tell them that they can say anything they like in total confidence and that you won’t get angry or upset. See if there is any other issue they don’t want to see you or your ex-spouse. It could be something small like they are worried their pet fish won’t be fed or that there is no light on at night and they feel scared.

Don’t make accusations

Wild accusations and jumping to the wrong conclusion that your ex or your ex’s family are poisoning them against you, can make a bad situation far worse. It could permanently damage your co-parenting relationship and that will ultimately lead to more tension for you and your children.

Teenagers and parental time

Children as they grow older want to see their parents less. If your child is or has recently become a teenager it could be nothing to do with spending time a parent. To illustrate this I will explain what happened to Kevin and Julie.

Kevin and Julie’s story

Julie divorced a few years ago and hired me a few months back to focus on creating a new chapter in her life. She had been amicably divorced from Kevin for 3 years and had 3 children with him 7, 9 and 14. They had agreed upon shared custody, where she had the children during the week and Kevin on the weekends. This suited them both, as Kevin travelled with his job and couldn’t look after their children during the week and it was good for Julie, as she worked as a Yoga and Languages teacher on the weekends. The children benefitted, as had quality time with both parents.

But problems began when their eldest son Luke became a teenager. Luke became less and less interested in weekends with Kevin. Spending the whole weekend with this dad and younger brother and sister was dull and boring. Luke had developed his own interests, mainly hanging out with his friends and sports. Kevin was really hurt and confused when Luke all of a sudden didn’t want to go. Luke also didn’t want to hurt his fathers feelings, and so didn’t want to talk about why he didn’t want to see him. When asked “why don’t you want to come with us?” he answered “I don’t know I just don’t” Kevin would then make lots of suggestions to entice Luke to go, but he said nothing.

Kevin started to think, what have I done wrong, was someone influencing him against me? He felt hurt, and threatened that his relationship with his son was being undermined. So started to demand that Luke visit as usual, whether he wanted to or not. Julie then became involved, protecting Luke and this is when the conflict started. Kevin accused Julie for Luke’s change of behavior. Julie became defensive and angry, how dare Kevin blame her, it was his fault, not hers that Luke didn’t want to be with him.

Luke was feeling helpless and guilty that he had caused tension between them. But, he was still unable to communicate his honest feelings. He didn’t know how to communicate that he wanted to be with his friends, doing things he liked not childish activities with his family. Having seen this behavior with my own nephew when my sister got divorced, I understood it straight away. Whether you are divorced or not, there comes a time when your children get older that they become less interested in spending time with their parents and their younger siblings.

What can you do in a situation like this ?

As a divorce coach I suggested for them to

Work together: Understand reasons behind why your children don’t want to spend time with you or your ex-spouse. Come up with solutions and approach these with your children.

Encourage Communication: As stated above. All children need to be able to share what they think and feel, in an environment free from guilt or judgment. Luke felt bad that he didn’t want to see his father and his response was to withdraw and not communicate. But when Kevin calmly encouraged Luke to share his reasons they made an arrangement, where Luke got more time to hang out with his friends and Kevin sees him in the evening.

Flexibility: This applies for childcare post-divorce and also between ex-spouses. Whilst a routine and parenting plan is essential and something I regularly support couples with, it is also important to be flexible. Teenagers tend to resent time restricted plans as they want more independence.

Freedom: Teenagers want freedom. Do they have one home where they can do whatever they please and another more strict? If yes they will want to spend as much time as possible at the parents than let them do their own thing.

In summary, the key thing when it comes to children not wanting to see one parent is not to over react, get angry and make the whole thing a big drama. Demands also rarely work. Listen, be flexible and encourage communication is the fastest way to address the situation.

As always, I hope there is something useful for you today.

From my heart to yours, Nicola

Author's Bio: 

Nicola Beer is an International Relationship and Divorce Coach who helps her clients find peace and create a new beginning after Marriage Breakdown and Divorce. This includes helping couples on the verge of a breakup to resolve their relationship issues once and for all, so that they can revive the love, passion, respect, and fun that's been missing.

As well as helping clients during and after Divorce to manage stress, create more income and adjust to new financial realities, redefine who they are, create a new social life, and when they are ready attract someone great. Nicola also runs 2 parenting programs that support children through and after divorce

Nicola has combined 11 years' experience helping people with emotional issues. This comprises 7 years private coaching and 4 years as a volunteer for the Samaritans where she supported callers dealing with any emotional distress. She is UK certified in Coaching, Grief Recovery for Adults and Children, NLP, Time Line Therapy, Hypnosis.

Nicola's passion to support people before, during and after divorce comes from her own childhood, where due to the stress of divorce her mother suffered a mental breakdown. As 1 of 5 children the divorce was devastating for her family and affected each of her family in different ways. More recently Nicola's older sister with 4 children is going through a difficult divorce. Having experienced and seen the pain and stress associated with divorce Nicola is focused on proving solutions. She knows divorce doesn't have to mean disaster and takes her clients and their children from surviving to thriving. She is equally passionate about saving marriages, so has a program to overcome relationship problems.

Nicola works with expats and locals, Muslims and Non-Muslims from all over the world, mainly from Dubai, London, India, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, either in person for a 2 day intensive package or further afield US, Australia via video conference and phone.