When parents separate, children often face a dilemma. Who do they side with? Do they favour one parent over another?

Fortunately in most cases, the children work through the issues with their separating parents and remain on good terms with both– though it may take a little time before the children get used to the new arrangements.

Similarly, most parents realise the benefit of their children maintaining a good relationship with the other parent, whatever their own personal feelings against the other parent may be.  So they are careful to make sure the child spends regular time with the other parent. They make a special effort not to involve their children in disputes following family breakdown, nor do they speak badly about the other parent to a child, recognising the damage this can cause to their children’s wellbeing.

Unfortunately though, despite their best intentions, and despite doing their best to maintain good relationships with children, some parents experience problems in their relationship with their children following separation.  They may find themselves blamed for the separation by the children, and are rejected by their children. This tends to be especially common where the children are older and not afraid to express their views.

When this happens, it’s common for the parent who experiences the rejection to blame the other parent. They may mistakenly believe the other parent is brain washing the child, turning the child against them. In some cases this actually does happen.

However, the reasons why a child becomes estranged from a parent are usually not so clear cut. There are a whole range of reasons why a child may seem to favour one parent over the other. Children may simply have always had a closer relationship with one parent. Or it may be that one parent is in better financial circumstances and that flows through to a child receiving greater material benefits from that parent.

But parents can minimise the risk of estrangement for children by being mindful that they do need to adjust appropriately to their children’s needs as they get older, and respect their wishes to be independent and to be able to spend time with their friends.

Perhaps the biggest mistake parents can make is to intentionally involve children in the problems and issues of the separation in an attempt to undermine the relationship of the child with the other parent. This can cause long-lasing resentment and damage to the child’s relationship with both parents. When this does happen however, the Family Law Court can help. It has the power to investigate the situation, and involve the parents and children in mediation and therapy. The Court will take every opportunity to assist a capable, caring parent to maintain their relationship with their children.

The most pressing reason for legal intervention is where children are exposed to, or are victims of, violence or abuse. Such cases must be reported at once; the courts regard these as priority cases and have the power to fully and quickly investigate cases of possible violence and abuse.

It’s heartbreaking for a caring parent to find they are losing their relationship with their children and are becoming excluded from the children’s lives, for whatever reason. The good news is that, even if children do become distant following a separation, if parents stay patient and loving with their children, children often do change and seek to reestablish their relationship with the estranged parent at a later time.