Separation Anxiety and Parenting Time

Most parenting time orders or guidelines state that the mere fact that a child doesn’t want to go visit with the other parent is not a basis to deny parenting time. At times there is an allegation of separation anxiety by one parent. An article on WebMD, noted that “separation anxiety disorder is a condition in which a child becomes fearful and nervous when away from home or separated from a loved one–usually a parent or other caregiver—to whom the child is attached.” The article notes that sometimes the child may develop physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. According to the article, separation anxiety often develops after a significant stressful or traumatic event which includes a change in environment. It is very common in divorce cases for there to be significant changes in the child’s environment due to the parents living in separate households. Importantly, the article notes that separation anxiety may not really be a disease of the child, but can be a manifestation of the parent’s issues with the situation.

In most cases, treatment is not necessary. In some cases, however, therapy or antidepressants are used. Parents need to be sensitive to the child’s needs when going through divorce and also must understand that separation anxiety affects approximately 45% of children in the US age 7 to 11 years old. The mere fact that a child is reluctant to go to the other parent’s house, is not automatically an indication that there is something wrong. Both parents should be communicating about any behavioral changes that they see in the child to make sure that they have a common plan to address these issues.

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