My 15 year old daughter Charlie refuses to spend time with her father each weekend as dictated in a Consent Order put in place when her father and I separated six years ago. While things between her father and I were initially tense, we have since moved on and become amicable. Unfortunately, a family member accidentally disclosed to my daughter the reason for our marriage breakdown, my husband’s infidelity, and since this time Charlie has vehemently refused to see or talk to her Dad.
While I believe that Charlie needs some time to process this new information, I’m worried. My husband might have been a rubbish husband but he has always been a wonderful father. Now I am worried that he will take legal action against me for breaching the Court Order. I can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do and feel utterly helpless.
First of all, congratulations for your level headed approach to this situation. It is evident that you really do want what is in the best interests of your daughter. Secondly, teenagers are notorious for being tricky and it is not unusual for children, as they enter adolescence, to wish to move away from what is recommended in the original Court Order. Many teens start to resent the constant movement between households, particularly as loyalty to their peers’ grows; along with the desire to remain geographically close to them (tough when parents live many suburbs apart). We also see many situations where teens may lock horns with one parent, or even a parent’s new partner. All of these circumstances can lead to an adolescent refusing to see one parent. Even when the relationship between the child and both parents is a positive one, lawyers often see teenagers expressing a desire to have greater control over where they spend their time. As the teenage son of one of my clients once articulated beautifully; “You know; this business of me being with Dad one week and Mum the other is pain. I want to live with Mum full time because that has me close to my friends and school, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love or want to spend time with Dad.”
As children move into adolescence, they grow in maturity and this gives even greater weight to their wishes. It is not unusual that the arrangements contained in the Court Order may not be in the child’s best interests as they grow given the static nature of the document.
Parents facing this, and similar situations, are encouraged to speak up and ask for help. Just because Court Orders are in place, doesn’t mean there cannot be changes to care arrangements. If you have the support of the other parent, which appears to be the case in the above scenario, a parenting plan outlining new arrangements to reflect the current wishes of a child can be entered into. The effect of the parenting plan is that is sits above the Court Orders. This parenting plan can be prepared by a Family Lawyer, in conjunction with the family GP, school counsellor, teachers or independent counsellors and psychologists and of course the parents. In this situation intervention through these networks may be very important in restoring the father/daughter relationship. The voice of the child in respect to matters affecting them is important and should be taken into account.
Of course if there is still animosity between the parents, then it is likely that a contravention application may be filed. However the Court recognises that the Best Interest of the Child are a paramount consideration when dealing with their care arrangements. Division 13A of the Family Law Court sets out the Consequences of failure to comply with others, and other obligations that affect children. Within that Division, it is acknowledged that it is possible that:
- The Contravention is alleged but not established;
- The Contravention is established but there is a reasonable excuse for the contravention;
- The Contravention without reasonable excuse (less serious contravention)
- The Contravention without reasonable excuse (more serious contravention).
The penalties associated with the above are varied and of course dependent on where the contravention lies.
If you have any concerns that you may be contravening the Order please contact us today.