In the event where a child refuses contact the immediate allegation is made that the residential parent is influencing the child to refuse contact. This is a possibility to consider.
Some children feel for some reason or another guilty or incapable of leaving the residential parent in order to spend time with the non-residential parent. The possibility needs to be explored and the child needs to be assisted through psychotherapy and intervention by the residential parent to overcome this difficulty.
Children might experience legitimate problems with a non-residential parent. The parent could not have similar or acceptable levels of competency regarding care and parenting which impacts negatively on the child. It is also possible that a child has not have a meaningful relationship with one parent and then have to spend extensive time periods with that parent. Children could refuse contact if the time that they spend with the non-residential parent dramatically exceeds the pre-separation involvement between the parent and child. The opposite might also be true, where the child is flattered by the attention from a parent who showed little interest previously. In such a case the child might refuse contact with the parent who has been the primary caregiver during the time that the family lived in one home.
Contact refusal of children of different age groups could be ascribed to different reasons. For instance toddlers experience separation anxiety as a normal developmental process and parents could interpret this as contact refusal. Primary school children are concrete in their thinking which makes them more susceptible for contact refusal. Adolescents are more aware of their own needs. They have a life of their own and more importantly a social life of their own. They have very distinct ideas of what they consider as wrong and right (moralistic). Adolescents might refuse contact because an alternating weekend contact arrangement does not suite their other interests.
The exchanges from one home to another could become so heated and stressful that the child takes control and refuses to participate. Discussions between parents during crossovers, unpredictability and hostility contribute to such an uncomfortable context.
Contact refusal of the child could be because of alienation in the family system. The “alienated child” may openly express hatred and hostility and not only refuse to go to the other parent but may refuse to have anything to do with the other parent. The child may present with exaggerated and unrealistic reasons for this showing little guilt or remorse. The duration of contact refusal, the age of the child and the child's previous relationship with the parents are all factors in determining the severity of the difficulties that the family experiences.