The Family Court is commonly faced with the issue of a child rejecting a parent or resisting spending time with that parent. These can be indicators of alienation or enmeshment and the Court can make orders to manage such situations to ensure children have the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.

The Court takes these issues seriously and will sometimes take a very robust line of action to ensure children have the benefit of both parents being involved in their lives. A recent example was where the Court ordered federal authorities to locate a mother, take custody of her daughter and return the child to her father in Adelaide, despite a history of the child refusing to spend time with her father. This order was made after the mother had repeatedly failed to attend Court and co-operate with authorities. Psychological reports outlined the child was reluctant to spend time with her father, who she had not seen for two years; although, no clear reason for the child’s resistance could be discerned. The psychologists were concerned with the imbalance of power in the mother-daughter relationship - it was found the mother acted to please her child. The Court held it was inappropriate for a young child to hold all the power in her familial relationships and the child must learn to behave within boundaries.

This case is an example of the Court’s power to intervene where a child rejects or resists contact with a parent for no discernable reason, where a primary consideration is that it is in a child’s best interest to have a meaningful relationship with both parents.

What is Alienation?

Alienation is where a child rejects one parent with no apparent guilt. The alienated child can express strong feelings of anger, hatred, contempt or fear toward one parent, which are significantly disproportionate to the child’s actual experience with that parent.

What is Enmeshment?

Enmeshment is where the identities of parent and child become merged and in extreme cases, may mean the parent and child seem to function as if they were the same person with the same opinions, tastes and preferences. Enmeshment can result in the child becoming extremely dependent on the parent and can exclude the possibility of the child developing a meaningful relationship with the other parent.

The Court’s Role in such cases

In most circumstances the Court will impose orders to ensure children have the benefit of both parents having meaningful involvement in their lives. In cases where there is alienation or enmeshment the Court will likely make orders that attempt to restore time between the child and the rejected parent and facilitate healing their relationship.

Expectations of Parents

Where parenting orders are in place, parents must comply with those orders. Parents are expected to encourage and facilitate children spending time with the other parent and in so doing it is suggested that parents treat time with the other parent in the same manner as a child’s compliance with other non-negotiable routines, such as going to school or brushing teeth. It is imperative that parents remember Court orders are in place to ensure a child has the best possible opportunity to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents throughout their childhood and into adulthood.