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At what age can a child refuse to see a parent in the UK?

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If you are going through a divorce or separation, you may be wondering, at what age can a child refuse to see a parent in the UK? Making arrangements for children after a relationship breakdown is not always straightforward and matters can be more complicated if a child does not want to see one of their parents.

We take a look at what the law says and how to deal with the situation when a child objects to spending time with a parent.

At what age can a child refuse to see a parent in the UK?

There is no age at which a child is legally entitled to refuse to see a parent. The courts prefer that children have a meaningful relationship with both parents wherever possible. If asked to intervene when a child does not want to see one parent at all, the courts will look at the unique circumstances of the case in reaching a decision.

The court can ask the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or Cafcass to work with the parents and the child. Cafcass can prepare a report to help the court understand and deal with the issue. The child’s best interests will always be prioritised.

At what age can a child choose who to live with?

When deciding which parent a child should live with, the court will go through the points on the child welfare checklist, as follows:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child in light of their age and understanding
  • Their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on them of any change in circumstances
  • Their age, sex, background and any other relevant characteristic
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs
  • The powers available to the court to deal with the matter

The court is likely to take into account the wishes of an older child, usually from around age 12. At the age of 16, they can legally decide which parent they want to live with, unless there is a child arrangements order in place that states they should live with a particular parent until they reach the age of 17 or 18.

What should I do if my child doesn’t want to visit father UK?

Where a child does not want to see their parent, the courts generally expect the other parent to encourage them to do so if there is a child arrangements order in place, unless there is a valid reason not to, such as risk of harm. Mothers or fathers denied time with their child or children have the right to ask the court to intervene if matters are not resolved by agreement.

You can talk to your child to try and ascertain why they do not want to see their parent and see if there are any arrangements that could be made to make spending time with that parent easier.

Family mediation may be helpful, where a mediator will work with both parents to try and find a way forward. In some cases, it is possible to have input from your child as well if they are aged 10 or older and both parents and the mediator are agreeable. This is known as child inclusive mediation and would take place with a mediator with special training to deal with this sensitive type of mediation.

Mediation can be very helpful in resolving disputes concerning children after the breakdown of a relationship. A mediator can help couples discuss parenting constructively and can reduce conflict. This can be particularly beneficial in understanding how to work together to parent going forwards.

What will the court do if a child does not want to see their parent?

If the court is asked to decide, it will look at what it believes to be in the child’s best interests. It will take into account the child’s wishes and feelings, but also consider whether the child should see their other parent in any event. It is generally the case that the courts believe a child should spend some time with each parent. Only in exceptional circumstances, supported by compelling reasons will a court decide that a child should have no direct contact with a parent.

In the Court of Appeal case, Re H-B (Contact) [2015] EWCA Civ 389, the President of the Family Division, Lady Justice Black, noted that parents have a responsibility to ensure that children do things that they do not want to do when this is in their best interests.

She said, “There are many things which they ought to do that children may not want to do or even refuse to do: going to the dentist, going to visit some ‘boring’ elderly relative, going to school, doing homework or sitting an examination, the list is endless. The parent’s job, exercising all their parental skills, techniques and stratagems – which may include use of both the carrot and the stick and, in the case of the older child, reason and argument –, is to get the child to do what it does not want to do. That the child’s refusal cannot as such be a justification for parental failure is clear: after all, children whose education or health is prejudiced by parental shortcomings may be taken away from their parents and put into public care.”

Contact our family law solicitors in Bristol for advice on child arrangements

If you are looking for a solicitor who specialises in the arrangements for children, we will be happy to help. We have a high level of experience in dealing with child arrangements, including in complex and entrenched situations.

For more information in respect of our services, see our children law solicitors page.

For expert advice on any matters related to children and divorce or separation, you can contact one of our children law solicitors at your local Henriques Griffiths office in Bristol or Winterbourne or use our simple enquiry form to ask a question or request a call back.