Custody issues can be fraught with all sorts of unseen problems that are never easy to resolve.
The sort of co-operation, trust and compromise needed to sort them out amicably are often the very things whose absence in the adults contributed to the situation in the first place.
And then there are the youngsters who are subjected to both obvious and subtle pressures - not necessarily intentionally.
Shared custody or other visitation arrangements, such as a weekend with the non-custodial parent, can be fraught for them. If they like the security of routine and the comfort of their bedroom and home, the regular upheaval of the weekend away can be unsettling, even distressing.
Children can pick up the unspoken tension that might hang around a visitation weekend and hate it or even feel responsible for it.
They can feel like they're visitors rather than at home and are never quite sure what they can and cannot do, especially if there is a new person in their parent's life.
The short period of visits can mean that neither has any real chance to relax and get to know the other, while the custodial parent can inadvertently create wariness because of things they say, the way they put things, or a look when this other adult is mentioned.
Other children whose regular home it is may resent the intruder who disrupts their routines or seems to get special attention. Depending on their ages, children can be very quietly and sneakily unkind to someone they see as an outsider.
There are youngsters who just like to get on with what they like doing and have trouble handling intense attention from a parent trying too hard to be kind, to please or to make up for the situation.
If a child suddenly doesn't want to go to the other parent, it can be very easy to put some sort of sinister spin on it. And often they won't be able to express why. All they will tend to say is, "I don't want to" or "I don't like it there".
Without putting answers into mouths, ask if there's something in particular they don't like about the house. Check out about each of the other members of the household. Ask if it's about leaving you and leaving home. Check out feelings of sadness, anger and fear.
If you can't make any headway, and remember children will often tell you what they think you want to hear, then it's probably a good idea to involve someone you feel your child trusts and see if they can help them put a finger on the problem. It could well be a problem, big to the youngster, but simply resolved.
© Ian Munro 2014. All rights reserved.
- The Timaru Herald