Why Does My Son Hate Visiting His Father?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I have been divorced from my ex for 4 years. We have a son who we adopted at 18 mos, from a trauma and neglect background. He is 7.5. He has multiple neurological issues, PDD-NOS, anxiety disorder, emotional disregulation and others, but is bright and sweet. I divorce my ex because he was an abusive bully. Not physically-but emotionally-but the psych. i was seeing at the time said it was only a matter of time before it became physical. My question is visitation. My son hates to go, has always hated to go. Screams and hollers and begs me not to make him go. Runs when ex shows up-has to be coaxed, or if I’m dropping off, it takes a good 20 minutes to get him to go-again, more coaxing. Ex is remarried. Son says he hates the new wife, hates sleeping there, hates dad and has started saying that he wants to kill them so he doesn’t have to go anymore. Ex says he has no problems when he’s there-but son doesn’t agree with that-says his dad is lying. I have never bad-mouthed my ex, always played up going to daddy’s as something fun, but i don’t know how much longer I can keep up the happy face. I know that ex hasn’t changed in some respects, I’m sure ex bullies him, that’s the way he is-and the way his father treated him-and he won’t get help for that-but it’s not something concrete that I could prove in court. I don’t know what to do. If I say that son doesn’t want to go on visits, then I know ex will contact his lawyer and take me to court. He will absolutely lie to make it seem like it’s all my fault and I have no money to hire a lawyer to fight him. How old does a child have to be before they can decide they don’t want to visit? And I might add that it’s the overnights that son doesn’t like the most. If it was just visits and then home to sleep, I think he would more readily go (ex refuses to do that). Again, ex denies that there’s any problem, but son disagrees and is majorly disregulated when he comes home. Thanks.

A. You are right to be concerned. Something seems very wrong when your son has such a negative reaction to spending time with his father and his father’s new wife. Broadly speaking, there are two possibilities for his strong reaction. One possibility is that something troubling is occurring at the home of your ex, such as abuse. You said that your ex is a bully and if he bullied you it’s reasonable to believe that he may be bulling or abusing your son.

It is also possible that your son, perhaps due to his past history of trauma and abuse and his current psychological issues, has difficultly adjusting to essentially living in two homes. Having to split time between parents is difficult for most children and this would be especially true for a child saddled with multiple neurological and psychological issues and a complex history of trauma.

As you mentioned there may be little that you can do to stop his visits with your ex. What if your son is being abused by his father? You cannot afford a lawyer but there may be free legal services available or lawyers who can give you free advice regarding this situation.

You should also explore why your son has such a negative reaction to seeing his father. You need to investigate this further and assess the reasons underlying your son’s feelings. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, consider talking to a therapist or having your son talk to a therapist. A therapist whom you both meet with in person may be better able to assess and advise you in this situation. I wish you and your son well.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Apr 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Why Does My Son Hate Visiting His Father?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/04/13/why-does-my-son-hate-visiting-his-father/