Parent-child contact problems: a measured approach

A new joint statement from two of the leading family organisations in the USA acknowledges the risk to children of polarized perspectives and emphasizes the importance of effectively addressing parent-child contact problems.

The statement from the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) says that “Children are at greater risk when parent-child contact problems are not effectively addressed and when family law professionals and others echo and intensify the polarization within the family.”

It recognises both parental alienation and intimate partner violence as possible factors in contact cases, but states that no immediate label should be used for parent-child contact problems as there are multiple factors and dynamics that may account for these issues.

These factors include interparental conflict before and after the separation, sibling relationships, the adversarial process/litigation, third parties such as aligned professionals and extended family, a lack of functional co-parenting, poor or conflictual parental communication, child maltreatment, a response to a parent’s abusive behaviours, the direct or indirect exposure to intimate partner violence, parental alienating behaviours, an alignment with a parent in response to high conflict co-parenting, or a combination of these factors.

This consensus marks a welcome change from the polarised parental alienation v. domestic abuse debate.

The AFCC and NCJFCJ statement could also be helpful as Scotland prepares for full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In proposing a child-centred approach, the statement notes that “Children’s behaviour should be considered in the context of what is normal for a child’s age, developmental stage, and the family socio-cultural-religious norms.”

It goes on to say “Children should have the opportunity to express their views in family justice matters that concern them. The stated views of children are not necessarily determinative of their best interests. There are multiple factors that may contribute to children expressing views that do not reflect their best interests. Family justice practitioners should understand the basis for the child’s expressed wishes and acknowledge their rights.”