Dear Fiona: Can my ex-wife stop me from seeing my children?

07 April 2022

The problem…

“After my divorce four years ago, my wife gained full custody of our two children (now aged 14 and 12). At first, I was able to see them regularly, but over time it has become increasingly difficult. It seems there is always something else they MUST do, rather than see me.

“For example, last September I had taken a half day off work to see them (pre-arranged with my ex-wife), as their school had closed early for a training exercise. However, when I arrived, my ex said my daughter wasn’t feeling well, and my son had to stay at school to take part in a football training session before a big match the following week. A simple phone call would have saved me a journey. But even without that, it just seemed like a set of poor excuses, and it’s happening more and more often.

“Increasingly, my pre-arranged visits are cancelled at short notice because there is something else that the children simply HAVE to do. It’s as though I am being deliberately excluded. I know my ex has started seeing someone else, and I am worried that she expects him to take over the role of being father to my children. Can she deny me access to my children like this?”

Fiona says…

“Not knowing the basis of the agreement you first reached with your ex-wife makes it difficult for me to comment on this. If a court order was used to establish access arrangements, my understanding is that your ex cannot deny your visits, unless they are causing harm to the children. However, even if the arrangement was created out of court, there must have been some sort of agreement between you at the start. Given this, my first suggestion would be to have a proper discussion with your ex-wife and explain how you are feeling.

“Try to do this calmly, and without being confrontational or angry. It won’t help the children one bit (or your chances of seeing them again) if this descends into an argument. It may be that she is simply unaware of the problem. It might also be that she is telling the truth, and that your children HAVE become very busy both at school and socially. It’s normal for teenagers and children as they get older, to want to spend less time with parents and more with their peers. Your ex may be just as unhappy with this process as you.

“None of this means they don’t love you or need you around; it just means that you may have to work harder at meeting them on their terms. Perhaps seeing them individually might help? But if visits are to become less frequent or difficult (and I suggest they will) consider finding other ways to be in contact with them too. If they have mobiles and/or tablets, get one yourself and get savvy with methods of video calls, in groups or one-to-one. Whatever you do, don’t give up entirely on face-to-face time with your children, it’s very important and they need it every bit as much as you do.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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