Withholding Access as a Control Tactic

Separated parents often have different opinions about what is “best” for the child. Parents that fail to consider the thoughts and feelings of the child usually end up treating the child like property. This is most often accomplished when a parent withholds the child from the other parent to use the child as leverage in an argument or to punish the other parent for not meeting their demands.

When the child is being withheld, access to the child is being used as a control tactic. The child’s relationship with the parent becomes solely reliant on the willingness of the parent to follow the terms dictated by the other parent. If the parent does not comply, the child is held hostage until the demands are met.

  • Case study #1: The child is denied access the other parent because the other parent owes child support. The parent demands that the balance is paid in full before parenting time can resume.
  • Case study #2: The child is denied access to the other parent because the parent does not like someone the other parent is associated with. The parent demands that [this person] is not present during the other parents time or the child will be withheld.
  • Case study #3: The child is denied access to the parent until a clean drug test is provided to the other parent. The parent demanding the drug test refuses to allow supervised visits and is not taking any other reasonable steps to show that the alleged drug use is a legitimate concern.

In all of the above scenarios, the parents failed to consider the thoughts and feelings of the child. The child wanted to spend time with the other parent despite unpaid child support, the parent’s choice in friends or alleged drug use. The parent making the demands appears to be more focused on maintaining control than facilitating the child’s relationship with the other parent.

In other situations, the child is withheld to punish the other parent or to maintain control during a parenting dispute. Decisions are made for the child without the best interest of the child in mind. The focus is instead on revenge or getting their way after a disagreement.

  • Case study #1: The child is denied access to the parent to prevent the child from attending a siblings birthday party. The parent withheld the child to “get even” with the other parent for not returning early from vacation to allow the child to visit the parent for the parent’s birthday.
  • Case study #2: The child is denied access to the other parent because the parent wanted to spend Easter with the child but the holiday landed during the other parents time. The other parent refused to voluntarily surrender their time with the child. The parent picked up the child from school early to “win” the dispute. The child was dropped off after the parent was done celebrating Easter and the child has eaten the same meal the other parent planned to make.
  • Case study #3: The child is denied access to the other parent because the parent wanted to take the child to an appointment that was scheduled during the other parents time. Covid protocols prevented both parents from attending the appointment. The other parent booked time off work to take the child to the appointment, therefore the request was declined. The child was withheld so the parent could take the child to the appointment despite the parenting schedule.

In the above scenarios, the child was again treated like property. The child wanted to attend the siblings birthday party but was instead used as a tool to punish the other parent. The child was left feeling excluded and uncomfortable whenever the party was mentioned in the future. The child wanted the parents to follow the schedule because the child liked the consistency offered by the routine. The child knew that something was up when the exchange did not happen like every other week, even if neither parent said anything to the child. The child’s thoughts and feelings were not taken into account because the parent was only focused on their own agenda.

If you are in a similar situation, our team can help. We can connect you with trained professionals able to assist with harm reduction strategies to improve difficult parenting situations.

Edmonton Family Network has connections to legal service providers and community support services. We help people discover great options for their situation. Email us to learn more.

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